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Lawmaker Says Russia Working On Legislation To Label Media Outlets 'Foreign Agents'

State Duma member Andrei Isayev said that RFE/RL, VOA, CNN, and Deutsche Welle were among media organizations that could be declared foreign agents. (file photo)

A senior Russian lawmaker says that parliament is developing legislation under which government-supported foreign media could be deemed "foreign agents" in Russia.

Andrei Isayev's remarks on November 13 followed multiple warnings from Moscow that it will respond to what it says is U.S. pressure on state-funded Russian outlets RT and Sputnik in the United States.

Isayev said that Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, CNN, and German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle were among media organizations that could be declared foreign agents in Russia once the legislation is in place.

Isayev said that lawmakers had decided to work out legislation "that would enable Moscow to declare media outlets foreign agents if they are "financed by a government or pro-government structures abroad" and "actively operate on Russian territory -- including interfering in our electoral process."

The comments from Isayev, deputy head of the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party faction in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, echoed remarks by Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin on November 10.

President Vladimir Putin suggested over the weekend that some of the proposals discussed in the Duma last week might be too harsh, but at the same time asserted that Russian media outlets were under "attack" in the United States and that Moscow will respond.

Deputy Duma speaker Pyotr Tolstoi, who was charged by Volodin with coordinating the Duma's efforts, said on November 13 that legislation enabling Russia to designate media as foreign agents would "not affect" media outlets' bureaus or correspondents in Russia, only the media companies themselves. He did not provide details.

RT, which used to be known as Russia Today, said 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).

The Justice Department has repeatedly refused to either confirm or deny ordering RT to register under FARA. RT says it received a letter demanding registration in September, but it has not made that document public.

The scope of Russia's "foreign agent" 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, does not currently include media outlets.

U.S. officials say the Russian law differs significantly from FARA, under which State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has said the need for 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," Nauert said on October 25.

RT and Sputnik have been accused by U.S. intelligence agencies of spreading misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.

Russia's threats against U.S. media come ahead of a March 2018 presidential election in which Putin is widely expected to seek a new six-year term. The Kremlin's control over the media and political levers, along with his popularity, make his victory a foregone conclusion.

With reporting by RIA Novosti, Interfax, and TASS