Russia Drafts ‘Reciprocal Measures’ Over US Demands on Kremlin Channel

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited RT after its launch in 2013
In 2013, Vladimir Putin visited the new Russia Today broadcasting centre and met with the channel's leadership and correspondents. Photo: Kremlin.ru

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russian lawmakers began work Friday on measures against US media after Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT was ordered by Washington to register as a “foreign agent.”

Lawmakers said the new measures could require U.S. media to also register as foreign agents in Russia.

The move comes as Washington fights what it calls a barrage of “fake news” from Russian media and online outlets including RT and Sputnik news agency aimed at interfering in US domestic politics.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, tasked deputies with updating existing legislation to protect Russians against what he said was the influence of U.S. media.

In 2012, Moscow adopted a controversial law to label non-governmental organisations that receive funding from abroad as “foreign agents” in a move rights groups described as a clampdown on civil society.

“Our law on foreign agents does not apply to media. They are planning to apply a US law to Russia Today and Sputnik news agency,” Mr. Volodin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

“In this connection it would be right for our relevant committees to work out reciprocal measures which would allow us to take steps to protect the citizens of our country and our country itself from overt interference” of U.S. media in Russia.

Volodin’s deputy Pyotr Tolstoi said lawmakers might adopt legislation that would require US media to register as foreign agents.

“Reciprocal measures will be taken to impose the same limitations that Americans are trying to impose on Russian media based on the 1938 law on foreign agents,” Mr. Tolstoi was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

State-controlled television channel RT said on Thursday it would have to comply with Washington’s demand to register as a foreign agent in the United States.

But the channel’s head, Margarita Simonyan, said RT would go to court to challenge the demand.

RT said the Department of Justice had given it until Monday to register its U.S. operations as a foreign agent or see its head arrested and accounts frozen.

“We believe that the demand does not only go against the law, and we will prove it in court – the demand is discriminative, it contradicts both the democracy and freedom of speech principles,” Ms. Simonyan was quoted as saying by RT.

“It deprives us of fair competition with other international channels, which are not registered as foreign agents.”

In a caustic tweet, she slammed the U.S. deadline.

“The U.S. Department of Justice wheeled out a cannibalistic Monday deadline,” she tweeted. “Can you feel the smell of freedom?” she said.

Washington sees RT as Moscow’s propaganda arm and has asked RT to register its American operations under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which is aimed at lobbyists and lawyers representing foreign political interests.

Last month Ms. Simonyan complained to President Vladimir Putin that RT and Sputnik had come under huge pressure in the United States.

The Moscow-based media outlets have become a focus of the investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

Mr. Putin said that Moscow would retaliate following concrete measures in the United States.

“As soon we see concrete steps limiting the activities of our media, there will be a retaliatory response,” he said at the time.