KEY POINTS

  • Putin slammed Wikipedia after it refused to remove information about the war in Ukraine
  • Putin in 2019 suggested Wikipedia should be replaced with a Kremlin-approved encyclopedia written in Russian
  • Wikipedia is one of the last places where Russians can access information about the invasion

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday warned citizens against using the volunteer-run encyclopedia, Wikipedia, for in-depth information about the war in Ukraine.

Speaking in an interview with Russian state media, Putin slammed the “quality of information” on Wikipedia and reminded his people that information is also available on media channels backed by the Kremlin.

“Of course, objective, important, in-depth information that’s been gathered properly and skillfully…this is in great demand,” Putin said, as translated by journalist Kevin Rothrock. “And that’s why you can’t just use Wikipedia. And we know the quality of the information there. But when you have talented people who are professionals whose opinions you can trust, that is, of course, worth a lot. It’s like an encyclopedia, but living and breathing.”

Putin’s tirade against Wikipedia comes after Moscow’s censorship office sent a letter to the company threatening to block access to the site if it did not delete information that contradicted the Kremlin’s narrative of the war, including estimates on the death toll among Russian troops and casualties among Ukrainians.

The Wikimedia Foundation, which hosts the free online encyclopedia, refused to remove the information and added that it will continue to keep “knowledge open, neutral and free,” according to a statement.

Putin has taken numerous steps in an attempt to discredit Wikipedia. In Belarus, police officers have been tasked with arresting Wikipedia editors. One editor had written an article about the personal sanctions levied against Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has become Putin’s ally amid the war. Authorities have since removed the information from the site.

In 2019, Putin suggested that Wikipedia should be replaced with a more “reliable” encyclopedia sanctioned by the Kremlin. The Russian president added that they planned to invest 1.7 billion rubles or $26 million in the project.

Wikipedia and YouTube are among the only places where Russians can access information about the invasion of Ukraine. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have been blocked for anyone not using a Tor browser. Most independent news outlets have also exited the country since the start of the war.

Wikipedia was temporarily blocked by the Kremlin in 2015 over an article that discussed a form of cannabis.

Wikipedia's volunteer editors help police its tens of millions of articles
Wikipedia's volunteer editors help police its tens of millions of articles AFP / Lionel BONAVENTURE
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