How, exactly, Paris or Brussels might force Eutelsat to block those Russian channels is an open question. Lange and Philipoff say that if the European Parliament can ban the English-language Sputnik and RT stations from their airwaves, sanctions should have the power to remove Russian-language TV from their satellites. In May, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told the EU Parliament they would ban three new broadcasters “in whatever shape or form, be it on cable, via satellite, on the internet, or via smartphone apps.”
Politico has reported that those three broadcasters are Russian-language news networks that reach Europe, with some help from Eutelsat’s satellites.
Eutelsat told WIRED, “We are aware of the European Union’s intention to sanction three Russian channels, two of which are broadcast on our satellites, and we are ready to immediately cease broadcasting them as soon as the corresponding European regulation is published.”
The United States recently slapped sanctions on three Russian-language TV stations, including NTV (the flagship station of provider NTV+), after concluding that they are “spreading disinformation to bolster Putin’s war.” Those sanctions are likely to have an impact on their foreign revenue, but not on their Russian operations.
Going after the satellites themselves would be a hugely disruptive escalation. Moscow and Kyiv are already taking aim at each others’ satellite communications.
Western intelligence agencies say, in the hours before its invasion, Russian hackers took aim at American satellite provider Viasat. “Although the primary target is believed to have been the Ukrainian military, other customers were affected, including personal and commercial internet users,” the UK’s National Cyber Center said in a joint statement with the US and EU.
Earlier this week, just ahead of Russia’s Victory Day celebrations—which offered Moscow a prime opportunity to project strength amidst its stalled war—the State Special Communications Service of Ukraine announced that “[television] broadcast from the Russian satellite to the occupied Ukrainian regions was unexpectedly turned off.”
European cooperation isn’t limited to Eutelsat’s satellite television. Eutelsat owns two subsidiaries in Russia, including home internet provider Konnect. In turn, the Russian state satellite operator owns a small stake in Eutelsat itself. (Corporate documents say most of tje 3.62 percent ownership stake corresponds to the Russian Satellite Communications Company, or RSCC.)