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Moscow concerned by Ukrainian plans to cut Russian TV channels

MOSCOW, May 27 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow said on Tuesday Ukraine's plans to cut Russian TV channels from its cable television network would be a violation of the rights of millions of Russian speakers in the country.

Ukraine cautioned Russia earlier this month that it could stop retranslating Russian language channels over their alleged biased coverage of "sensitive bilateral issues." The warning came after Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov called for Ukraine's Crimean peninsula to be handed back to Russia.

"We believe such a decision would violate Russian-Ukrainian agreements on media cooperation and hamper bilateral relations in general," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"We will insist Ukraine observe international democratic principles and ensure people are free to choose information sources," the ministry said.

Luzhkov has been barred from entering Ukraine for defying numerous warnings and "continuing to call for actions that threaten Ukraine's national interests and territorial integrity."

His emotional statement echoed warnings by other Russian politicians that Russia could reclaim the Crimea, now an autonomy, if Ukraine was admitted to NATO, one of a key goals of the country's Western-leaning government.

The Crimea, which has a predominantly ethnic Russian population, was Russian territory until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ceded it to Ukraine in 1954. Russia's Black Sea Fleet uses a range of naval facilities in the peninsula as part of a 1997 agreement, under which Ukraine agreed to lease the bases to Russia until 2017.

The Foreign Ministry said Ukrainian organizations and individuals have repeatedly complained about the clampdown on Russian language broadcasts. And they have sent letters to Ukraine's president, premier and parliamentary speaker requesting that they rethink the situation.

Language has been a contentious issue in relations between Russia and Ukraine, where some political groups have opposed the "Russification" of the country.

Russian is still widely spoken in Ukraine, especially in the east, the Crimea and the capital. Many people have never learnt to speak Ukrainian.

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