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U.S. Senators Condemn Russia's 'Assault' On RFE/RL


A view of the RFE/RL building in Prague

A bipartisan group of top U.S. senators has called on President Vladimir Putin to halt Russia’s “state-sponsored assault on media freedom” through the targeting of RFE/RL.

A bipartisan group of top U.S. senators has called on President Vladimir Putin to halt Russia’s “state-sponsored assault on media freedom” through the targeting of RFE/RL.

In a March 12 statement, Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took aim at the deteriorating media environment in Russia and a clampdown on U.S.-funded RFE/RL under a controversial "foreign agent" law.

Russia’s state media-monitoring agency Roskomnadzor has opened 260 cases against RFE/RL Russian-language news services for failing to mark written and broadcast materials in accordance with the onerous regulations. A Moscow court has already levied fines totaling some $1 million in 142 cases.

“Long employed to weaken Russian civil society, the Kremlin is now using onerous ‘foreign agent’ laws as a pretext to silence RFE/RL in Russia, pursuing court cases and fines,” Senators Chris Coons (Democrat-Delaware), Mitt Romney (Republican-Utah), Marco Rubio (Republican-Florida), and Bob Menendez (Democrat-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a joint statement.

The senators accused Putin of consolidating control over the media and passing laws to punish critics, while threatening the safety of members of the press.

“In this harsh media environment, RFE/RL has performed an invaluable service to the Russian people, providing them uncensored local news that aims to meet the highest standards of objective journalism,” the senators said.

The string of cases against RFE/RL means that pending appeals, it must pay the fines and come into compliance with regulations or face the potential closure of its operations inside Russia.

'Foreign Agent' Law

Earlier this month the U.S. State Department expressed "deep concern" about what it called Russian government efforts "to clamp down on the exercise of freedom of expression."

The statement came the same day that a Moscow judge rejected five appeals by RFE/RL against fines imposed on the company under the "foreign agent" law.

Russia's so-called "foreign agent" legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as "foreign agents," and to submit to audits.

Later modifications targeted foreign-funded media.

In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service on the list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services, and Current Time, a network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on its "foreign agent" list and to impose restrictions on them.

In December 2020, authorities added five individuals to its "foreign agent" list, including three contributors to RFE/RL's Russian Service. All five are appealing their inclusion on the list.

Roskomnadzor last year adopted rules requiring listed media to mark all written materials with a lengthy notice in large text, all radio materials with an audio statement, and all video materials with a 15-second text declaration.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly has called the regulations “orders to deface our content platforms and intimidate our audiences.” He added that RFE/RL will continue “to object, protest, and appeal these requirements."

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  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee | Hearing: “U.S. Policy on Belarus” (June 8, 2021)
  • The Dispatch, "How Moscow Is Threatening Radio Free Europe and the Remnants of the Independent Press" (Jun 1, 2021)
  • Columbia Journalism Review | Joel Simon, "Repression and Reciprocity in Russia" (May 25, 2021)
  • The Washington Post editorial, "Russia’s attack on U.S. media has become a test case" (May 21, 2021)
  • The New York Times, Kremlin Escalates Fight With U.S.-Funded Journalists, Officials Say (May 20, 2021)
  • Axios World, "Radio Free Europe fights to continue operations in Russia" (May 20, 2021)
  • NPR, "Russia Cracks Down On U.S. Broadcaster RFE/RL" (May 15, 2021)
  • AP, "Russian bailiffs show up at US broadcaster’s office" (May 14, 2021)
  • Reuters, "Russia freezes Moscow bank accounts of U.S. broadcaster RFE/RL" (May 14, 2021)
  • Deutsche Welle, "Russia freezes bank accounts of US broadcaster RFE/RL" (May 15, 2021)
  • Moscow Times, "Moscow Bailiffs Visit RFE/RL Newsroom Over ‘Foreign Agent’ Fines" (May 14, 2021)
  • International Press Institute, "Media face financial ruin under Russian 'foreign agent' law" (May 10, 2021)
  • The Washington Post editorial, "The ominous lessons Putin is learning from Xi Jinping" (May 7, 2021)
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  • The Washington Examiner, opinion by Ted Lipien on Russia's campaign against RFE/RL (May 3, 2021)
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentions RFE/RL in World Press Freedom Day statement (May 2, 2021)
  • U.S. State Department spokesman on RFE/RL in Russia (Apr 29, 2021)
  • U.S. Mission to OSCE on RFE/RL in Russia (Apr 29, 2021)
  • The Washington Post editorial, on RFE/RL, Meduza and the "foreign agent" law (Apr 26, 2021)
  • The Power Vertical podcast - RFE/RL's Jamie Fly and Kiryl Sukhotski on "“Truth, Lies, And Foreign Agents: The Kremlin’s War On RFE/RL"
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  • Reuters on Russia's pressure on RFE/RL (Apr 7, 2021)
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  • The Washington Post writes about the "foreign agent" law and its impact on Russian NGO's and RFE/RL (Apr 3, 2021)
  • U.S. Mission to OSCE on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 18, 2021)
  • EU Mission to OSCE on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 18, 2021)
  • Reporters Without Borders on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 16, 2021)
  • U.S. Senators on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 12, 2021)
  • U.S. State Department spokesman on RFE/RL in Russia (Mar 3, 2021)
  • The Washington Post editorializes about RFE/RL in Russia (Feb 12, 2021)
  • The New York Times, "Russia Pushes U.S.-Funded News Outlet Toward Exit" (Jan 21, 2021)
  • U.S. Members of Congress on RFE/RL in Russia (Jan 21, 2021)​
  • Committee to Protect Journalists on RFE/RL and Russia's expanded "foreign agent" law (Jan 14, 2021)
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