Russia’s “retaliatory measures” in response to U.S. officials forcing the state-funded media outlet RT to register as a foreign agent in the United States will include new restrictions on social media, according to Sergey Neverov, who heads the State Duma faction of the ruling political party United Russia.
Speaking to the news agency Interfax, the Duma’s first deputy speaker, Ivan Melnikov, also explained that lawmakers are working quickly to add a clause about mass media to Russia’s existing legislation on foreign agents.
It remains unclear how exactly the State Duma will amend Russia’s law on foreign agents to apply to social media and news organizations, but Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin has already stated that the reforms will be adopted sometime next week.
Roskomnadzor, Russia's federal censor, said on November 9 that it's drafted what appears to be the harshest retaliatory proposal of all: measures that would establish “a special procedure” for “suspending and terminating the activities” of foreign media outlets. Roskomnadzor says it’s also designed an extrajudicial system for blocking the websites of organizations labeled “undesirable” by the Justice Ministry.
On Thursday, November 9, RT chief editor Margarita Simonyan announced that her television network has been left with “no choice” but to register as a foreign agent in the United States. America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act typically applies to groups lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, but the FARA registry does include a few foreign media outlets, as well. Organizations registered under FARA are permitted to continue publishing and broadcasting. Foreign government-funded media outlets like Japan’s NHK and China’s The China Daily are both registered foreign agents that still operate in the United States.
In January 2017, U.S. government officials released a declassified intelligence report on Russian interference in American domestic politics. More than a quarter of that report consisted of an annex detailing the supposedly colossal significance of the RT television network. Ten months later, on the basis of this report, Twitter banned advertising on its network by RT, citing its role in the “state-sponsored Russian efforts to interfere with and disrupt the 2016 presidential election.”
The Russian government enacted legislation against foreign agents in 2012, allowing the Justice Ministry to flag any nonprofit organizations that receive foreign funding and practice supposedly political activity. After an organization is registered as a foreign agent, it is subjected to regular and sometimes crippling government audits.
Since 2014, Russia's Justice Ministry has added 87 organizations to its list of “foreign agents,” including human rights groups, charities, environmentalist organizations, and others, whose work is supported by foreign grants.