Russia names Radio Free Europe and Voice of America ‘foreign agents’

Russia on Tuesday named Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and seven affiliated news services as foreign agents, in retaliation for similar U.S. moves against the English-language Russian network RT.

The Justice Ministry published a list of nine outlets, which includes Russian-language subsidiaries of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that cover the Caucasus region of Russia, Crimea, Siberia, and two predominantly Muslim regions in central Russia, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The ban also includes Current Time TV, which is produced by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and Factograph a website produced by Radio Liberty.

The move comes in response to a U.S. Justice Department requirement that RT, previously known as Russia Today, register as a foreign agent under a 1938 law because of its alleged role in interfering in U.S. affairs and the 2016 presidential election by pushing the Kremlin’s agenda. Russia denies it meddled in the election campaign.

Congress has also revoked the accreditation of RT, prompting the Russian lower house of parliament, the State Duma, to consider a ban of U.S. media. On Monday, a Duma committee moved to propose that any U.S. media named foreign agents be banned from attending its sessions. It is scheduled to vote on the resolution Wednesday.

Moscow-based RT says the Trump administration is forcing it to file as a foreign agent by Nov. 13. The U.S. government says RT runs propaganda for the Kremlin. (The Washington Post)

On Tuesday, Sergei Popov, deputy head of the rules committee for Russia’s upper house, the Federation Council, said the body could also ban media designated foreign agents.

The ministry statement did not mention any specific restrictions on the media outlets. Russia’s law on foreign agents, which in the past has been used on nongovernmental organizations critical of the Kremlin, requires the organizations to label their publications as coming from a foreign agent. The Russian government recently designated a union of truckers protesting highway tolls as a foreign agent.

A bill extending that law to media organizations sailed through both houses before President Vladi­mir Putin signed it last month.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty quoted its president, Thomas Kent, as saying he had received no details of what the foreign agent designation would mean.

“Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a journalism company engaged in professional news coverage of Russia and other countries,” Kent said. “We remain committed to accurate and comprehensive journalism.”

Voice of America and Radio Free Europe were originally created during the Cold War to broadcast news to the closed societies of the Soviet Union and the Communist countries in its orbit.

Russia charges that the U.S. designation of RT as a foreign agent and the removal of its accreditation by Congress constitutes an unprovoked attack on free speech.

“We didn’t start this theater of the absurd,” Maria Zakharova, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said at a Duma hearing on Tuesday. “But we have to respond to it.”