(CNSNews.com) – Angered by reported pressures brought to bear on its media mouthpieces in the U.S., the Kremlin is taking aim at American media organizations in what it’s calling a “mirror” response to what it sees as unfair targeting of Russian outlets.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) received a letter from the Russia’s justice ministry on Monday, warning that the broadcaster may face some restrictions on its operations in Russia, under that country’s controversial “foreign agent” law.
“The activities of such media outlets may be subjected to restrictions provided for by the current legislation of the Russian Federation,” the ministry said in a statement quoted by the RIA Novosti news agency.
“The principle of mirror measures will be used in the future, depending on the measures applied to the Russian media by the United States,” it added.
Last January, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in an unclassified assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election described the broadcaster RT (formerly Russia Today), as the “Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet,” and said it actively collaborated with and provided a platform for Wikileaks.
“The rapid expansion of RT’s operations and budget and recent candid statements by RT’s leadership point to the channel’s importance to the Kremlin as a messaging tool and indicate a Kremlin-directed campaign to undermine faith in the U.S. government and fuel political protest,” the report found.
Subsequently, U.S. lawmakers introduced bills in the House and Senate calling for the broadening of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), a pre-World War II-era law requiring agents representing the interests of a foreign power to disclose their relationship as well as financial and other information.
(During the Cold War, the Soviet TASS news agency was registered under FARA, from 1947 until 1992.)
If enacted, the legislation would give the Department of Justice greater authority to investigate, identify and prosecute entities deemed to be trying to influence the U.S. political process unlawfully.
The texts do not mention Russia, but their sponsors made clear RT was the main target.
“We have good reason to believe that RT News is coordinating with the Russian government to spread misinformation and undermine our democratic process,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) when introducing her measure in March.
“My bill provides the authority needed to request documentation of RT News and find out who they’re accountable to.”
Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who co-sponsored the House version with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in June, said, “Foreign propaganda dressed up as a legitimate news outlet is still foreign propaganda.”
“This bill will help ensure that Vladimir Putin’s regime can’t spread fake news with such ease ever again.”
‘Offensive against Russia’
Last month, RT claimed that the company which supplies services for its channel in the U.S. had been instructed to register with the Department of Justice as a foreign agent under FARA.
RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, told Russian senators last week that the network’s lawyers had advised that failure to register by October 17 could lead to arrests of U.S.-based staff and the seizure of property.
Simonyan was addressing a special Senate “committee on the protection of sovereignty,” which also heard from former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak. He called the targeting of RT part of a broader U.S. “offensive against Russia” aimed at curbing Moscow’s growing global influence.
The committee’s chairman, Andrey Klimov, called on government ministries and agencies to develop “reciprocal measures against the U.S. media in accordance with the existing Russian laws.”
Monday’s action by the Russian justice ministry appears to be a direct response.
The RFE/RL services being targeted include:
–its Russian-language service known locally as Radio Svoboda;
–Current Time, a Russian-language television news program launched by RFE/RL in 2014 in partnership with the Voice of America;
–Idel Realii, a Russian-language website aimed at the middle Volga republics such as Tartarstan; and
–the RFE/RL Ukrainian service desk based in Russian-occupied Crimea, which RFE/RL calls “virtually the only remaining source of independent news in Crimea.”
RFE/RL editor-in-chief Nenad Pejic said in a statement responding to the letter that the targeted outlets “are journalistic organizations. We trust we will be able to continue our work.”
Putin in 2012 signed into law a bill requiring any Russian non-governmental organization (NGO) or charity that gets funding from abroad to register as a foreign agent. He said at the time the law was needed to counter foreign interference and lobbying in Russia.
Russian media on Monday quoted a justice ministry source as saying that the letters sent to media outlets warned of forthcoming changes to the legislation, to expand the list of NGOs that will have to register as foreign agents.
“Taking into account the limitations of the current law on foreign agents, proposals will be made to expand the list of organizations that meet the criteria for inclusion in this category – including media outlets – as well as the possibility of recognizing as ‘foreign agents’ individuals receiving foreign funding,” the source was quoted as saying.