Russian President Vladimir Putin has shut down one of Russia’s top official news agencies, RIA Novosti, along with its international radio broadcaster.
TV personality Maxim Shevchenko called the reorganization “a sensible step” in a post on Twitter. “The nest of anti-Russian media forces has been destroyed,” he wrote.
The shutdown is part of a drive to strengthen the Kremlin’s influence at home and abroad, the New York Times reported.
The state-run news agency was widely viewed as offering professional and semi-independent coverage.
Since returning for a third time as president last year, Putin has taken several steps that critics have denounced as a strangulation of political rights and open debate, concentrating power in an ever tighter circle of allies, said the NYT.
At the heart of the decision, said the Times, is the tug of war with the European Union over political and economic relations with Ukraine, a country with deep links that Putin and others here believe bind it to Russia, not the West.
One rumour is Ukraine’s embattled president, Viktor Yanukovich, has reached a secret deal to forge a strategic partnership with Putin and this is thought to have driven thousands of demonstrators on to the streets.
Putin’s presidential chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, said the decision to close the news service was part of an effort to reduce costs and make the state news media more efficient.
But RIA Novosti’s report said the changes “appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector.”
Editor Svetlana Mironyuk, the first woman to lead the agency, apologised to stunned colleagues for failing to preserve what she called "the best news organization ever built by state money," according to a video recording of the meeting.
The agency is being absorbed into a new state media organization known as Rossiya Sevodnya, or Russia Today headed by a Kremlin loyalist Dmitry Kiselyov.
RIA Novosti is one of the official sponsors of the Winter Olympics to be held in the Russian resort of Sochi in February. Its employees have been deeply involved in preparations.
The agency was founded as the Soviet Information Bureau two days after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The agency has correspondents in 45 countries and provides reports in Russian and 13 other languages.
Its reporting has earned greater respect for its balance and diversity of viewpoints.