The United States is questioning the legality of the abrupt closure of Russia's last independent television station, TV6. It says an independent media is essential to Russia's development as a free society.

The Bush administration had been monitoring the legal maneuvering over TV6 with concern, and it says freedom of the press and promotion of the rule of law in Russia would be best served by keeping the independent channel on the air.

The future of the station had been in jeopardy since November when a Moscow court ruled in favor of a shareholder of TV6 the government-controlled gas company Gazprom which had sued for the liquidation on the channel on grounds of insolvency.

An appeals court upheld the ruling earlier this month and the channel's programming was shut down at midnight Monday after TV6 journalists backed out of a proposed deal to sever ties with station owner Boris Berezovsky, a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the legal case against TV6 and its closure are "extremely difficult to understand" in any business or financial context.

"For some time," Mr. Boucher said, "there's been a very strong appearance of political pressure in the judicial process against Russia's independent media, including in this case. There have been very unusual and rapid developments in this TV6 liquidation case. it took place at high judicial levels where things normally take several months. Moreover, the law under which TV6 is being prosecuted has only been applied in two cases, both of them against independent media. And the law in question, in fact, lapsed on January 1, 2002."

The spokesman said U.S. officials made their views about TV6 clear in both public and private contacts with Russian leaders, and said political authorities in Moscow could have stopped the closure if they had wanted to.

Mr. Boucher called development of an independent media "essential" to Russia's political and economic development.