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Russian media watchdog blacklists outlets linked to Wagner mercenary chief

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Russia’s media watchdog has blacklisted at least five outlets affiliated with Wagner mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and blocked their websites in Russia.

The move came after Wagner fighters took control of a Russian military headquarters and advanced on Moscow in what appears to have been an attempted insurrection.

As of Saturday, websites of the RIA FAN news agency and four online news portals controlled by Mr Prigozhin’s Patriot media holding company – People’s News, Neva News, Politics Today and Economy Today – were listed on a register of blacklisted sites maintained by the communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor.

Unconfirmed reports in Russian news outlets on Friday claimed that Mr Prigozhin himself had ordered a shut down of St Petersburg-based Patriot.

Mr Prigozhin has not directly confirmed or denied the reports.

Patriot, founded in 2019 to bring together Mr Prigozhin’s media and internet assets, included the Internet Research Agency, the so-called “troll farm” linked to Russian attempts to meddle in US elections.

Patriot director Yevgeny Zubarev said this week that the Internet Research Agency, which was tasked with conducting online influence operations to advance Russian interests, had operated under Mr Prigozhin’s control since 2009 before being brought under the Patriot umbrella.

In the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, Internet Research Agency employees regularly posed as Americans to offer financial help to US protest movements tackling socially divisive topics, according to a 2017 investigation by Russian newspaper RBC.

The investigation, based on accounts from several Internet Research Agency employees, identified more than 100 Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts it said were used to contact US-based activists offering help with organising protests and events, focusing on race relations and gun rights among other front-page issues.

Mr Prigozhin admitted in November that he had interfered in the 2016 US election.

He and his fighters escaped prosecution and were offered refuge in Belarus last week after the president of Belarus helped broker a deal to end what appeared to be an armed insurrection by the mercenary group.

Mr Prigozhin’s media group encompassed dozens of media outlets, including RIA FAN, the news agency whose US subsidiary USA Really pilloried “mainstream media” and praised then-president Donald Trump in its mission statement.

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