Moscow's foreign agent law bites back at U.S. crackdown on Russian media

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US investigators are reportedly looking into whether Russian government-funded outlets such as RT and Sputnik were part of Russia's influence campaign aimed at the 2016 presidential election.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had described the USA demand of RT as an attack on freedom of speech and warned that Russia would retaliate.

During Wednesday's debates, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin described the new legislation as a "symmetrical answer" to the U.S. and a signal that "our media can't be treated like that".

The bill was sent to Russia's upper house of parliament to be rubber-stamped before being submitted to President Vladimir Putin for final approval.

He denied it will affect any Russian media with foreign funding.

The Kremlin praised the move as allowing it to offer a "very harsh" response to attacks on Russian media overseas.

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Peskov refrained from comment on how the bill could be applied and which foreign media outlets could be singled out.

Russian MPs backed amendments that would allow global media that receive financing from overseas to be classified as "foreign agents", RIA Novosti news agency reported, a measure previously used only against NGOs.

"We are making it possible.to take selective retaliatory measures - that is the idea of the law, and I hope it will be enforced this way".

At the same time, the websites that those organisations use have not been blocked in Russian Federation, even though those resources "are used to prepare and disseminate materials that discredit Russia's domestic and foreign policies, to form negative public opinion and destabilise the situation in the country", the law-makers said.

The media outlets singled out as foreign agents will face requirements now applied to foreign-funded non-governmental organizations under a 2012 law.

A Russian law adopted in 2012 forces NGOs that have global funding and whose activities are deemed "political" to undergo intensive scrutiny of their finances and staffing and label themselves as "foreign agents" on paperwork and statements.

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Companies will be forced to declare their finances, funding and staffing if the rules are implemented.

Critics of the law have said the definition of political activity is so loose that it could be used against nearly any non-governmental organisation.

The move is likely to effect the Russian services of major worldwide media outlets such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, as well as the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

"This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russia", Denis Krivosheev, the group's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

The German government also strongly criticized the legislation. Yahoo News has reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has interviewed a former Sputnik correspondent about his work at the website.

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