Russian officials penalize ABC-TV for broadcast of militant's interview

MOSCOW -- Russia's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it will not renew permission for ABC-TV to operate in the country after the network broadcast an interview with a notorious Chechen warlord.

In a statement, the ministry said ABC would be considered "undesirable" by all Russian state agencies because of an interview with Shamil Basayev, which was broadcast last week on "Nightline."

The ministry called the broadcast a "clear fact supporting the propaganda of terrorism" and said it "resounded with direct calls for violence against Russian citizens."

As a result, the ministry said it decided "not to renew the accreditations of employees of this television company after they expire."

The Foreign Ministry is the main government agency authorizing foreign media outlets to work in Russia, and the decision effectively now bars ABC from working here.

ABC News had no immediate comment.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said any decision that limited ABC's operations in Russia would be regrettable.

"I think we believe that ABC as well as all other members of the media should have the opportunity for freedom of expression and have the right to report as they see fit," Casey said.

On Friday, the Foreign Ministry summoned a top U.S. diplomat to protest the interview with Basayev, who has claimed responsibility for some of Russia's most terrifying terrorist attacks, including last year's hostage seizure at the school in Beslan, which ended in the deaths of more than 330 children and adults.

In the interview conducted by Russian journalist Andrei Babitsky, Basayev, who has a $10 million bounty on his head, said he was plotting more attacks.

Among other attacks, Basayev has been linked to a 2002 hostage-taking assault on a Moscow theater that left 170 people dead, a 2003 suicide attack in the Moscow subway that killed 41 people, and a 2003 double suicide bombing at a Moscow rock concert that killed 17 people.

On Sunday, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said he was barring military personnel from contact with ABC and said the ministry now considered the network "persona non grata."

The ministry also suggested that the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty, whom Babitsky works for, would face new scrutiny.

"It's also worth nothing that in Moscow attention has been paid to the fact that the interview with the terrorist was conducted by A. Babitsky, a Radio Liberty staffer, in violation of the Russian law, without a corresponding accreditation," the ministry said. "Circumstances of organizing and receiving this interview are yet to be cleared with his employer."

In previous reports from Chechnya, Babitsky has focused on human rights abuses by Russian troops. Russian authorities have accused him of being a Chechen sympathizer.