Putin Signs ‘Foreign Agents’ Media Law As Payback to U.S.

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The U.S. Justice Department previously said it would require the news outlet RT, formerly known as Russia Today, to register as a foreign agent. So, on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin happily reciprocated.

Putin signed legislation that allows the Russian government to designate media outlets as “foreign agents” if they receive funding from abroad. The law was passed in both houses of Russia’s parliament in recent weeks.


According to Reuters, the Russian Justice Ministry last week published a list of nine U.S.-funded news outlets that could be affected. They include Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and seven local–language news outlets run by RFE/RL, Reuters said.

RFE/RL reported that its news services previously had received warning letters from Russia’s Justice Ministry stating that affected news outlets would be “subjected to detailed financial-reporting requirements and required to label published material as coming from a foreign agent.”


The move was retaliation for the U.S. requiring RT America to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which it did earlier this month. According to RT, the U.S. threatened legal action and a freezing of the media outlet’s assets if it failed to comply.

The U.S. took the step as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

As The Hill noted:

In January, RT America was singled out in a report from the U.S. intelligence community about the potential impact that Russia had on the 2016 presidential elections.

The report from the U.S. intelligence community called the outlet a “state-run propaganda machine” that “has positioned itself as a domestic U.S channel and has deliberately sought to obscure any legal ties to the Russian Government.”

RT has also contracted with Julian Assange, who runs WikiLeaks and is suspected of leaking internal emails from the Democratic National Committee. The intelligence report said that some employed by RT “actively collaborated with WikiLeaks” during the presidential election.


Also on the U.S. Justice Department’s radar is Sputnik, an English–language news outlet funded by Russia.

The U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act was created in 1938 and has since led to numerous criminal prosecutions over the decades. The Hill reporter Megan R. Wilson noted that some U.S. lawmakers are now trying to make it even stricter.


“We can’t allow foreign agents, particularly those working on behalf of our adversaries, to skirt our laws,” Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement reported by The Hill.

RT’s editor–in–chief, Margarita Simonyan, called the Justice Department’s recent efforts a “war” waged on journalists by the “U.S. establishment.” We’ll see how U.S. journalists react to Russia’s latest tit for tat.