European Union: Sanctioned Russian media entities and individuals accessible on X (Twitter)

Posted on:  2024-06-07

Image generated by AI.

Report co-author: Saman Nazari, Alliance4Europe

This Flash report was made possible through a collaboration facilitated by the EU Election ISAC. It follows a previous report on the same topic on video-sharing platform TikTok.

As a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which started in 2014 and reached full-scale in 2022, the EU enacted sanctions against a number of individuals and organisations offering support to the Russian war effort.

In addition to political and military decision-makers or military-industrial organisations, a number of Kremlin-controlled media entities and prominent propagandists are included in this sanctions list. As a consequence, broadcasting content from these entities is forbidden in the EU.

On May 14, 2024, the European Commission further clarified that the sanctions prohibit hosting content from these channels or making them available to EU audiences on content-sharing platforms.

As of June 5th 2024, the following media entities are under sanction:

Russia Today and its subsidiariesSputnik and its subsidiaries
KatehonRossiya 24 / Russia 24
New Eastern OutlookRossiya 1
NTV/NTV MirRossiyskaya Gazeta
Oriental ReviewSpas TV Channel
Pervyi KanalRossiya RTR / RTR Planeta
REN TVTsargrad TV Channel
RIA NovostiTV Centre International
IzvestiaVoice of Europe
Table 1: Sanctioned Russian media entities

Despite these legal provisions, as of early June 2024, in the week before the European elections, X accounts linked to EU-sanctioned Russian state-controlled media and media personalities remained accessible to EU-based audiences.

Accounts Analysis

On X, these accounts include:

  • one account verified as by X as being affiliated with a sanctioned entity (1), 
  • accounts with all the hallmarks of official channels or of shows broadcast on these channels (name, logo, only posting content produced by the entity) but without any external verification (e.g. 2, 3, 4),
  • accounts belonging to journalists or hosts of shows broadcast by sanctioned media entities and who frequently post content from these entities (e.g. 5, 6, 7),
  • personal accounts of media personalities specifically sanctioned by the EU in Annex I of Council Regulation No 269/2014 (e.g. 8, 9, 10).
  • accounts that repeatedly post content produced by those entities but which do not appear to be directly affiliated with them (e.g. 11, 12, 13).
  • newly-created accounts of sanctioned entities (or their shows or hosts) with little influence (e.g. 14, 15, 16)

In addition, several accounts with some connection to the sanctioned entities or individuals (e.g. logo, name) have been inactive for a few months or more (e.g. 17, 18).

Account verified by X as being affiliated with RT

1 account was verified by X as belonging to RT, a sanctioned Russian media entity.

NAMELINKSTATUS
RT India (19)https://x.com/RT_India_newsUnlabelled, verified, and still accessible. English
Table 2: Account verified by X as affiliated with RT

Official accounts of sanctioned entities or shows

13 accounts that are either official channels of these sanctioned media or their shows, or that are posing as them (e.g. logo, name, posting only content related to the channel or show) were identified.

NAMELINKSTATUS
Sputnik India (20)https://x.com/Sputnik_IndiaVerified, unlabelled, still accessible. English.
Rossiyskaya Gazeta (21)https://x.com/rgrusInactive since 2022, unlabelled, unverified, still accessible, Russian. 
Ren TV (22)https://x.com/RenTVInactive since 2022, unlabelled, unverified, still accessible, Russian.
Sputnik Africa (23)https://x.com/sputnik_africaUnlabelled, unverified, still accessible, English.
Sputnik USA (24)https://x.com/Sputnik_USAUnlabelled, unverified, still accessible, English.
RT – Going Underground (25)https://x.com/gunderground_tvUnlabelled, verified, English.
RT – RBTH Indonesia (26)https://x.com/RBTHIndonesiaUnlabelled, unverified, still accessible, Indonesian.
RT – ¡Ahí les va! (27)https://x.com/ahilesvainfoUnlabelled, verified, Spanish. 
RT – Cartas Sobre la Mesa (28)https://x.com/LuisCastroTVUnlabelled, verified, Spanish.
Russia Beyond (29)https://x.com/russiabeyond_itUnlabelled, unverified, inactive since 2023. Italian.
RT – Sepa Más (30)https://x.com/sepa_mass Unlabelled, verified, active, Spanish.
RIA Novosti – Baltnews (31)https://twitter.com/BALTNEWS1Unlabelled, unverified, active, Russian.
RT México (32)https://x.com/RussiaTodayMx Unlabelled, unverified, inactive, Spanish
Table 3: Official accounts (or accounts posing as such) of sanctioned media entities

Official accounts of journalists or hosts affiliated with the sanctioned entities

10 accounts of staff working for or hosting shows from these entities and frequently publishing content from these entities were identified. Publishing and hosting content emanating from these sanctioned entities runs contrary to EU sanctions.

NAMELINKSTATUS
Afshin Rattansi (33)https://x.com/AfshinRattansiVerified, active, still accessible. English.
Peter Lavelle (34)https://x.com/PLCROSSTALKVerified, active, still accessible. English.
Luis Castro (35)https://x.com/LuisCastroTVVerified, active, still accessible. English/Spanish.
Rick Sanchez (36)https://x.com/RickSanchezTVUnverified, inactive, still accessible. English/Spanish.
Dominik Reichert (37)https://x.com/EisernerVorhangVerified, active, still accessible. German.
Oksana Boyko (38)https://x.com/OksanaBoyko_RTUnverified, inactive, still accessible. English/Russian.
Erick Fonseca (39)https://x.com/listaderickUnverified, inactive, still accessible. Spanish.
Samantha Ramsamy (40)https://x.com/samantharamsaUnverified, last active in January, still accessible. French.
Maya Manna (41)https://x.com/mayamannaUnverified, active, still accessible. Arabic.
Salam Mosafir (42)https://x.com/SalamMosafir_RTVerified, active, still accessible. Arabic.
Table 4: Official accounts (or accounts posing as such) of journalists working for sanctioned media entities

Official accounts of sanctioned individuals

In addition to media entities, the EU sanctions list includes some individuals who are targeted for their role in advancing Kremlin-aligned narratives, with the same restrictions on making their content accessible to EU audiences. 5 such accounts were identified on X.

NAMELINKSTATUS
Vladimir Soloviev (43)https://x.com/VRSolovievActive last in April, unlabelled, verified. Individual in the EU sanctions list under number 230. English.
Margarita Simonyan (44)https://x.com/M_SimonyanUnverified, active, still accessible. Individual in the EU sanctions list under number 228. Russian.
Roman Babayan (45)https://x.com/robabayanUnverified, active, still accessible. Individual in the EU sanctions list under number 686. Russian.
Zahar Prilepin (46)https://x.com/ZaharPrilepinInactive since 2022, unlabelled, unverified, still accessible, Russian. Individual in the EU sanctions list under number 687. Russian.
Arkady Mamontov (47)https://x.com/a_mamontovInactive since 2022, unlabelled, unverified, still accessible, Russian. Individual in the EU sanctions list under number 689. Russian.
Table 5: Official accounts (or accounts posing as such) of media personalities subject to individual EU sanctions

Fledgling accounts of sanctioned entities

X also hosts some recently-created accounts of media, shows or journalists affiliated with sanctioned entities. These accounts have very few followers and, as of the time of writing, little influence. These accounts might be currently dormant but scheduled to be promoted by Russian-aligned actors.

NAMELINKSTATUS
Russland Danach (48)https://x.com/RusslandDanachCreated in May 2024, unlabelled, unverified. German.
RealpolitikmitAlexandervon
Bismarck (49)
https://x.com/realpolitikAvBCreated in April 2024. Unlabelled, verified. German.
Russia Today (RT) (50)https://x.com/russiatoday_sajCreated in June 2024. Unlabelled, verified. Spanish.
Table 6: Recently-created official accounts (or accounts posing as such) of media entities subject to EU sanctions

Examples of amplifiers

In addition to official pages of Russian state-controlled media or pages posing as such, some pages routinely repost and amplify the sanctioned entities’ content.

This republication can include outright republishing, or republication of content that has been cut or had watermarks added to it. 

Considering the May 14 European Commission clarification, hosting such content also runs afoul of the EU sanctions.

NAMELINKSTATUS
Afrique Media (51)https://x.com/AfriqueMediaFrequently shares RT content. French.
Stratpol (52)https://x.com/stratpol_siteAccount of a media operated by part-time RT host Xavier Moreau, frequently republishes RT content. French.
Aussie (53)https://x.com/aussiecossackFrequently shares RT content. English.
Donbass Italia (54)https://x.com/DonbassItaliaFrequently shares RT content. Italian.
Table 7: Accounts amplifying content of media entities subject to EU sanctions

An exhaustive search of all accounts sharing content produced by sanctioned entities was beyond the scope of this report, partly due to X effectively shutting down programmatic access to its data, contrary to DSA Article 40.12. However, the report’s authors note that such content appeared to be prevalent. It is therefore likely that a thorough search would result in tens or hundreds of thousands of such pieces of content.

Influence

The identified accounts have over 3.3 million followers on X.

The 3 accounts with the largest following are:

  • Vladimir Soloviev, one of the leading Russian propagandists and host of a TV show on sanctioned TV channel Rossiya 1. 1.4 million followers on X and personally registered under number 230 in the EU sanctions list.
  • Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of sanctioned media group RT. 557 thousand followers on X and personally registered under number 228 in the EU sanctions list.
  • Rossiyskaya Gazeta, sanctioned official newspaper of the Russian government. 303 thousand followers on X.

No ready explanations were found as to why such prominent accounts were not geo-blocked for EU users.

The target audience of many of these accounts is not solely in the EU:

  • A number of accounts identified post only in Russian – which can still reach the millions of Russian-speaking audiences in the EU (55),
  • Some accounts post in an official EU language but seem to be targeting speakers of that language outside the EU (e.g. Sputnik_USA, Sputnik Africa). However, they remain accessible to EU-based speakers of these languages.
  • Some accounts post in a non-EU language (e.g. SalamMosafir_RT), which is however widely spoken by diaspora communities living in the EU.

Recommendations

X is seemingly aware of at least one of these accounts, having verified it as owned by RT.

We recommend X adhere to the EU’s sanctions by:

  • conducting an algorithmic sweep of their platform to detect accounts and posts that use the logos or names of these sanctioned media or post content linking to their websites.
  • reviewing all names on the EU sanctions list to ensure they do not have an EU-accessible presence on the platform.
  • ensuring that the accounts identified are not benefitting from revenue-sharing mechanisms which could run afoul of EU sanctions.

We have identified a further five accounts presenting the same features as those listed in this report. This subset of accounts will be used to evaluate the thoroughness of X’s response (notably, whether the platform takes systemic action beyond the accounts listed in this report).

We recommend that civil society actors alert platforms and authorities when they detect that sanctioned accounts or content are visible in the EU.

We recommend that the European Commission specifies the extent to which sharing content featuring sanctioned individuals, including politicians, is permitted under the no-hosting provisions.

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