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French satellite giant broadcast Russian channel’s call for ‘2m Ukrainians to be destroyed’

·4-min read
Vladimir Putin regularly gives interviews to Russia's Rossiya-1 TV channel - Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin
Vladimir Putin regularly gives interviews to Russia's Rossiya-1 TV channel - Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin

Eutelsat, the French satellite company that will soon be partly owned by the British taxpayer, carried Russian news broadcasts calling for 2 million Ukranians to be killed while cutting back on broadcasts of the BBC and CNN in the region.

The Paris-listed satellite company, which is due to takeover British satellite company OneWeb, carries TV channels and includes a substantial Russian business.

The channels it broadcasts include Rossiya 1, a state-owned channel.

On news and panel shows hosted by the channel, Russian broadcasters repeatedly denied the existence of Ukraine, called for public hangings of Ukrainian defenders and pushed for the “denazification” of the country. The statements were broadcast to 15 million Russian households.

On Tuesday, Eva Bernke, Eutelsat’s chief executive, defended the company’s Russian business, saying the channels mostly carried “entertainment, sports and children’s channels”.

However in May, in a broadcast on Rossiya 1, state Duma member Alexei Zhuravlyov told a news programme: “So 5pc [of Ukranians] are incurable. Simply put, 2 million people are ready to recreate the SS. Those 2 million people should have either left Ukraine, or be denazified, which means destroyed.”

In a July broadcast, hosts compared the war in Ukraine to deworming a cat. “For the worms, it’s a war. For the cat, it’s a cleansing,” host Vladimir Solovyov said.

In other broadcasts, hosts advocated nuclear bomb attacks on the US and the public execution of Ukraine’s armed forces in the Donetsk region.

At the same time, Eutelsat has limited broadcasts of the BBC, CNN and other western media to Russian audiences. Eutelsat has claimed it will keep broadcasting in Russia based on a policy of “neutrality”.

Rossiya 1 is not currently subject to EU or UK sanctions. Eutelsat has stopped broadcasting other channels that have been formally blocked by European officials.

However, French activists have called for Eutelsat to shut down its Russian operations, which accounts for 6.3pc of its revenues.

André Lange, a French academic who has campaigned against the broadcasts, called the channels “the worst of Putin's war propaganda”.

Eva Bernke, Eutelsat’s chief executive, has defended the company’s Russian business - Sophie PALMIER/REA
Eva Bernke, Eutelsat’s chief executive, has defended the company’s Russian business - Sophie PALMIER/REA

The Ukrainian government has criticised Russia’s TV broadcasts and urged European carriers to boycott them. A Ukrainian Government spokesman said the channels “are part of the Kremlin's war machine, its informational component. Putin's special services treat information as a weapon that can be turned against its enemies at any time, in any corner of the world.”

OneWeb, a satellite company which was rescued by Boris Johnson in 2020, is due to merge with Eutelsat, the companies confirmed last week. The aim is to create a stronger competitor to Elon Musk’s Starlink

OneWeb was founded in 2012 before it collapsed during the pandemic. It had been due to launch a constellation of 650 satellites to provide rural broadband.

The British Government will keep a golden share in OneWeb, which gives it first preference over future manufacturing and a veto over certain OneWeb operations. The deal will give OneWeb investors, who include the British government, India's Bharti and Japan's SoftBank, 50pc of the combined company.

The British state is understood to have no special rights over the operations of Eutelsat. The French state will also have a seat on the board of the combined companies, as well as a 10pc stake. The deal reportedly required the personal sign-off of French President Emmanuel Macron.

The deal is expected to prompt scrutiny from regulators. Industry sources said the merger would almost certainly require a green light from the powerful White House oversight body the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, as both businesses work on US government contracts. The companies are understood to have not yet referred the deal to US regulators.

The merger announcement this week wiped around a fifth from Eutelsat's share price and hundreds of millions of euros from its valuation.

Eutelsat's extensive Russian business comes despite the fact Russia banned OneWeb from launching rockets from a base it controls amid the war in Ukraine. The Kremlin has also sanctioned OneWeb's chief executive, Neil Masterson.

A Eutelsat spokesman said it has “always has been fully compliant with all applicable sanctions on Russia” and already removed Russia Today, RTR Planeta and Rossiya 24 from broadcast. The spokesman said Eutelsat carries “a small number of Russian channels” that “are only available to viewers living in Russia.”