Russia Designates U.S.-Backed Broadcasters as ‘Foreign Agents’

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MOSCOW — The Russian government declared the broadcasters Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty “foreign agents” on Tuesday, in retaliation for a similar action against Russian state-run news outlets in the United States.

The Kremlin-financed television station RT America and its affiliated news agency, Sputnik, complied last month with an order from the Justice Department that they registered as foreign agents. This followed a report by American intelligence agencies in January that concluded that the Kremlin was using RT America as a tool “to undermine faith in the U.S. government and fuel political protest.”

Russian lawmakers and government representatives were infuriated by the decision, rushing through the retaliatory legislation within days. President Vladimir V. Putin signed the law at the end of November.

But earlier fears that the law might extend the registration requirement to major Western news organization were allayed when the act made no mention of them. Andrei Klimov, a senator, told the state-run news agency RIA Novosti on Tuesday that the list would not be expanded unless the American authorities took similar action on their side.

“Our attitude toward the American media is formed by the truly hostile actions of the American side toward our media,” Aleksei K. Pushkov, a member of the upper chamber of Parliament, told the news agency Interfax. “If the U.S. will reconsider the decisions it made recently, then the Russian decisions can be reconsidered, too.”

In addition to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, the Justice Ministry designated seven subsidiaries of Radio Free Europe as “fulfilling the role of foreign agents,” according to a statement on its website.

Some of the organizations focus on topics the Russian government considers sensitive, like Crimea.Realities, a website covering the peninsula annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and Caucasus.Realities, which reports on the situation in Russia’s restive southern region.

Radio Free Europe’s president, Thomas Kent, said his group was aware of the Russian decision but was not sure what it would mean in practice.

“The Russian Ministry of Justice has indicated that the new legislation will involve even more limitations on the work of our company in Russia,” Mr. Kent said in a video statement. “So far, the full nature of these limitations is unknown. At the same time, we remain committed to continuing our journalistic work in the interests of providing accurate and objective news to our Russian-speaking audiences.”

During Soviet times, the government jammed broadcasts of Radio Liberty and Voice of America, and banned other Western news outlets. It stopped doing so in 1988, during an era of political liberalization. But since coming to power in 1999, Mr. Putin has clamped down on the news media and other forms of expression.

Russia also cracked down that year on foreign-backed nongovernmental organizations that engaged in the broadly defined area of political activity, requiring them to register as “foreign agents.”

The 86 organizations currently on that list have to label all information they broadcast to Russian audiences as the product of a “foreign agent.” They also have to submit extensive financial reports, and their work is subject to suspension at any time by the authorities.