How France’s satellite champion became Putin’s mouthpiece

The letter, believed to have been personally handed to Eutelsat chief Eva Berneke by a member of Ukrainian embassy staff, threatens to sour relations between Paris and Kyiv.

“We will be forced to initiate the blocking of any of its activities in the territory of Ukraine,” Ohla Herasymiuk, chair of the broadcasting regulator, warns in the letter.

Eutelsat has been accused of broadcasting Russian TV channels that “systemically express support for the aggressive actions of the Russian government in Ukraine”, including efforts to “incite genocide of the Ukranian people”, the letter said.

A Eutelsat spokesman declined to comment.

The satellite operator, valued at €1.9bn, has faced repeated demands from French campaigners to “stop bloodcasting”, including protests outside its head office and demands from MPs and top European parliamentarians to remove the channels.

Founded in 1977, it operates a network of TV and communications satellites orbiting thousands of miles above the Earth. These beam satellite TV packages across Europe and Africa. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eutelsat expanded across Eastern Europe, providing broadcasting services and pay TV channels to Russia.

The company has pursued what its chief executive describes as a policy of “neutrality”.

It has claimed the TV packages it distributes throughout Russia are mostly children’s TV and sports. It has previously taken actions to block certain TV broadcasts, such as banning RT and removing Russian TV channel MIR due to sanctions and demands from regulators. The company insists it has always obeyed all sanctions in relation to the channels it broadcasts.

Eutelsat has been previously accused of taking a channel off air that was critical of the Kremlin.

In 2010, following the South Ossetia war between Russia and Georgia, it stopped broadcasting a pro-Georgian channel, Kanal PIK, and replaced the broadcasts with Russian TV packages.

Eutelsat denied the decision was due to pressure from Moscow and won a court case dismissing the Kanal PIK’s claims.

But its decision to continue to broadcast two major Russian clients amid the war in Ukraine has heaped fresh pressure on the French satellite company.

Writing in Le Monde, Ukrainian culture minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said this week: “Even the unprecedented sanctions imposed in 2022 have not put an end to its cooperation with the Russians. This powerful satellite operator continues to broadcast Russian propaganda channels.”

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