Russia Acts to Name U.S. Media as ‘Foreign Agents’ in RT Dispute
By Henry Meyer
Russia is poised to list U.S. media outlets as “foreign agents” by extending legislation used to restrict the activities of civil society groups, in retaliation for an American order requiring state broadcaster RT to register for a similar status.
“Our law on foreign agents doesn’t apply to media but since they are taking such measures against our channels in the U.S., we should respond to these unfriendly acts,” Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the lower house of parliament, said Friday in comments posted on the State Duma’s website. Amendments to the legislation are expected to be submitted and approved next week, he said.
The 2012 Russian law currently applies only to non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding and are considered to engage in political activity. Groups on the list are subject to tight scrutiny by officials and must place the words “foreign agent” on all their publications, a label that recalls Soviet-era denunciations of spies and fifth-columnists. The restrictions were criticized by the U.S. and the European Union.
RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, said Thursday that the broadcaster has no choice but to comply with the U.S. Justice Department’s demand to register as a foreign agent by Monday. The status, which applies to several state-owned outlets operating in the U.S. including Japan’s NHK and the China Daily newspaper, requires disclosure of the media organization’s foreign funding.
The Kremlin-funded channel denies assertions by U.S. intelligence agencies that it acted as a propaganda arm of the Russian government in efforts to influence last year’s presidential election. Simonyan said the head of RT’s U.S. subsidiary risked detention and the organization’s bank accounts could be frozen if it didn’t register.
Russia introduced its “foreign agents” law after the biggest political protests against Vladimir Putin since he first became president in 2000. It’s affected the work of dozens of NGOs, both Russian and foreign, prompting some to shut down. Putin is widely expected to announce his candidacy for a fourth term in presidential elections in March.
Russian officials have signaled that CNN, Voice of America and Radio Liberty could be among U.S. media targeted by the law.
Tensions between the U.S. and Russia have escalated steadily since President Donald Trump came to power in January, as his campaign promises to improve relations have faltered under the pressure of mounting investigations into the allegations that Russia helped secure his victory. Trump has dismissed the claims as “fake news.”
In the latest spat, the White House said Trump wouldn’t have a formal meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam on Friday, even after the Kremlin had said it expected talks to take place.