Russian Federation prepares to label U.S. media as 'foreign agents'

Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin. Alexei Nikolsky AP

Russian Federation introduced its "foreign agents" law after the biggest political protests against Vladimir Putin since he first became president in 2000.

The Justice Department gave RT America, the US arm of the Russian company, until Monday to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, RT's editor said Thursday.

Russian lawmakers said the move was retaliation for a demand by the U.S. Department of Justice that Kremlin-backed TV station RT register in the United States as a "foreign agent", something Moscow has said it regards as an unfriendly act.

Earlier an RT statement said the US Department of Justice "has given the broadcaster until Monday to register as a foreign agent, otherwise the channel's head faces arrest and its accounts could be frozen". Such a registration would require any reporting to be labeled as being financed or influenced by the Russian government, among other restrictions. "The demand is discriminative, it contradicts both the democracy and freedom of speech principles".

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Russian Federation is poised to list USA 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.

A draft normally has to be passed in three readings by the Duma, then get endorsed by the Federation Council, the upper house, before it can be signed into law by the president.

The threat of retaliation against USA media from the Kremlin is the latest in a diplomatic standoff that has resulted in both Moscow and Washington being forced to reduce embassy staff and give up diplomatic compounds.

"Our law on foreign agents doesn't apply to media but since they are taking such measures against our channels in the USA, 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. "Since such decisions are being made on USA territory in relation to our TV channels, it will be right for us to respond to these actions".

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Russian Federation will adopt "broader" measures which "may include social media networks", a top pro-Kremlin MP said.

Nikolov noted that foreign agent status implies a wide range of measures by the USA authorities, but no one knows what exactly can follow after this status is acquired.

Sputnik is also a state news media including a website and radio broadcast service. Russian Federation has denied any interference.

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