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Yandex warns Russian users of unreliable information online after Moscow threatens media

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Russian internet group Yandex is pictured at the company's headquarter in Moscow

By Alexander Marrow and Gleb Stolyarov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian tech giant Yandex has started warning Russian users looking for news about Ukraine on its search engine of unreliable information on the internet, after Moscow threatened Russian media over what they publish.

Authorities on Thursday threatened to block media reports that contain what Moscow described as "false information" regarding its military operation in Ukraine, an offensive that has seen Ukrainian forces battle Russian invaders on three sides and missiles pound the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

"Some material on the internet may contain inaccurate information. Please be attentive," read a message under the Yandex search bar when looking for the latest news about Ukraine. The message was only displayed to users searching in Russian.

Yandex said the banner message automatically appears on search queries for which there is an abnormal spike in growth or rapid updates in the news.

"The banner is not linked to any demands," Yandex said.

The company said the banner had first appeared on Thursday evening.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia's state communications regulator Roskomnadzor said the amount of unverified and unreliable information appearing online had increased significantly, and reminded editors that they must establish whether information is truthful before it is published.

There was no indication that Roskomnadzor had started blocking reports for Russian users. Earlier this month, the regulator ordered some outlets to remove reports from their websites about corruption allegations aired by jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

"They must use information and data received only from official Russian sources," Roskomnadzor said of reports about Russia's "special operation". Those spreading what it termed "false information" could be fined or have their reports blocked.

'MILITARY CENSORSHIP'

"Roskomnadzor is trying to establish military censorship in Russia," said Tikhon Dzyadko, editor in chief of TV Rain (Dozhd), a media outlet that last year fell victim to a crackdown on media outlets that Russia considers "foreign agents".

The media regulator has also taken umbrage with U.S. firms in recent days, demanding that Meta Platforms stop restricting Russian media including the RIA news agency and the defence ministry's Zvezda TV channel on Facebook.

Roskomnadzor wants Alphabet's Google to remove restrictions blocking the YouTube channel of Denis Pushilin, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine that Moscow recognised as independent this week.

"In connection with regular blocking by Western internet services, Roskomnadzor urges users to create accounts on Russian resources and to use Russian social networks," the regulator said.

Facebook and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Kim Coghill)