It has been over a month since Russia and the US engaged in political tit-for-tat escalations, but that is about to change: after a recent crackdown by the U.S. government, which ordered state broadcaster RT to register as a foreign agent following accusations it interfered in last year’s presidential elections, and which saw Twitter ban all RT-sourced advertising (despite actively seeking RT’s business beforehand) Russia said on Thursday it would retaliate next week against the American media, Bloomberg reports.
While the Russians didn’t specify what measures would be taken, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that “practical implementation” of steps in response to the U.S. move would begin next week. Russia has previously warned its retaliation would mirror restrictions imposed by the U.S. The foreign-agent label, which applies to several state-owned outlets operating in the U.S. including Japan’s NHK and the China Daily newspaper, requires disclosure of the media organization’s foreign funding.
As reported earlier today, RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, said on the broadcaster’s website that it has no choice but to comply with the DOJ’s demand to register as a foreign agent by a final deadline of Monday. Otherwise, the head of the channel’s U.S. subsidiary would face arrest and its bank accounts would be frozen, she said. “This demand violates U.S. law and we intend to appeal it in U.S. courts.”
What may Russia’s next move be? One month ago, Zakharova said that “we have never used Russian law in relation to foreign correspondents as a lever of pressure, or censorship, or some kind of political influence, never. But this is a particular case…”
She cited a 1991 Russian law which, she said, stated that if a Russian media outlet is subject to restrictions in a foreign country, then Moscow has the right to impose proportionate restrictions on media outlets from that country operating inside Russia. “Correspondingly, everything that Russian journalists and the RT station are subject to on U.S. soil, after we qualified it as restriction of their activities, we can apply similar measures to American journalists, American media here, on Russian territory.” She did not identify any specific U.S. media outlets that would be targeted. She said it made no difference from the Russian government’s point of view if those outlets were backed by the U.S. state, or privately-funded.
In September, Russia’s state communications regulator accused CNN International of violating its license to broadcast in Russia and said it had summoned the broadcaster’s representatives in connection with the matter. The watchdog did not publicly disclose the nature of the violation. The head of the regulator said it was a technical matter and denied that politics was involved. The U.S. Congress is investigating RT’s role in the 2016 election, as well as possible influence by state-owned Sputnik news service.
Russian authorities have signaled that CNN and Radio Liberty could be among those targeted in response to the action against RT.