Russia swiftly threatened to retaliate against U.S. media operating there, with the State Duma chief urging lawmakers to coordinate a response and the Foreign Ministry warning that Moscow could take action next week.
RT, which used to be known as Russia Today, said in a statement on its website on November 9 that it had been given a November 13 deadline by the U.S. Justice Department to register under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
It also said that a move to register under FARA could lead to closure of its U.S. operations.
The Justice Department, which has repeatedly refused to either confirm or deny ordering RT to register under FARA, declined to comment to RFE/RL on November 9.
RT Editor In Chief Margarita Simonyan said there was a danger that its employees could be arrested if the organization did not register under the law.
RT's website quoted her as saying that "between such consequences and registration as a foreign agent, we are forced to choose registration. Although, of course, we categorically disagree with this requirement."
She added that RT intends to fight the order in court, without being specific.
FARA requires people working in the United States for a foreign government in a "political or quasi-political capacity" to register with the Justice Department. The law was passed in 1938 to counter fears of Nazi propaganda and misinformation being spread in the United States.
Simonyan, as well as President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have threatened repercussions against some U.S. media in Russia if the registration order is enforced. CNN, as well as RFE/RL and Voice of America, have also been named as possible targets.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that Moscow could take action next week in response to what it claims is pressure on RT.
"We have...worked out measures in response," Zakharova told Russia state TV on November 9, adding that "there is an understanding that the practical phase of putting these retaliatory measures into place will begin next week."
On November 10, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin urged a deputy speaker to "coordinate work" on a response and to consult with the Duma committees on security, legislation, and information policy.
Volodin, a close ally of Putin, called for an unplanned break in the November 10 session of the lower parliament house so that leading lawmakers could discuss the issue.
"Since such decisions are being made in the United States in relation to our television companies, it is right for us to respond to these actions," Volodin said.
Zakharova said the response would be based on "Russian legislation" but did not elaborate.
In October, the Russian Justice Ministry warned RFE/RL that its operations in Russia could be restricted under its own legislation that deals with "foreign agents."
Volodin, however, said that Russia's foreign agent law "does not apply to media."
He said that steps should be taken to protect Russians from what he claimed was "the open interference that American media outlets have unleashed on Russian territory."
While RT distributes its programs freely in the United States on cable television, RFE/RL is already subject to severe restrictions in Russia, with nearly all of its radio broadcasts forced off the air by 2012 due to administrative pressure. Neither RFE/RL nor VOA has access to cable TV in Russia.
A U.S. intelligence report has said that RT was one of the primary conduits through which the Kremlin sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
U.S. officials say that Russia's foreign agents law, which Kremlin critics and civil society activists say has been used by Putin's government to silence dissent and discourage a free exchange of ideas, differs significantly from FARA.
"Russia’s foreign agents law has been interpreted to apply to organizations that receive even minimal funding from any foreign sources, government or private, and engage in political activity, defined so broadly as it covers nearly all civic advocacy," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in October.
Under the U.S. law, Nauert said, registration "is simply triggered when an entity or an individual engages in political activity. When the United States tells someone to register under a foreign agent requirement, we don’t impact or affect the ability of them to report news and information. We just have them register. It’s as simple as that."
According to the most recent report filed with the Justice Department, at least five foreign media outlets have registered under FARA, including broadcasters from Canada, Korea, Japan, and others. -- Sources