Russia's president has abolished the country's state-owned Ria Novosti news agency with no explanation issued to its staff. 

Vladimir Putin announced the surprise move on Monday through a decree published on his website, saying the organisation would be replaced by a news agency called "Rossiya Segodnya" (Russia Today).

The new company will focus on "coverage abroad of Russian state policy and public life" with multilingual services as a way of "raising efficiency of state media resources," the document published on the Kremlin website said.

Putin named Dmitry Kiselyov, a controversial figure often accused of being a propaganda mouthpiece and known for openly anti-gay, anti-American, and anti-opposition views, as the head of Russia Today.

"Restoring a fair attitude towards Russia as an important country in the world and one with good intentions - that is the mission of the new structure that I will head," Kiselyov told the state TV broadcaster Rossiya 24. 

"When this news first appeared, everyone thought it was a joke," Russian protest leader and widely-followed blogger Alexei Navalny wrote on his Live Journal page. "But no."

The dissolved agency

The news reportedly came as a shock to the staff of RIA Novosti with one employee, who asked not to be named, saying they found out from the Kremlin's website.

No explanation was given, with an internal email merely warning that a "liquidation committee" would be formed and asked that everyone remained calm.

"The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia's news landscape which appear to point towards a tightening of state control in the already heavily-regulated media sector," RIA said in an English-language article about Putin's step.

The agency was one of the biggest in the world and was also an official sponsor of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi next February.

It also recently became known for its detailed live reporting from Russia's most high-profile trials.

RIA Novosti traced its roots to 1941 when the Soviet Information Bureau was established by communist rulers.

Source: Agencies