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Russia threatens retaliation against U.S. media after RT network told to register as a foreign agent

Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen at the headquarters of the "Russia Today" television channel in Moscow in 2013. (Yuri Kochetkov / Pool Photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen at the headquarters of the "Russia Today" television channel in Moscow in 2013. (Yuri Kochetkov / Pool Photo)

Russia said Thursday it could begin next week to take measures against U.S. media outlets working in Russia in retaliation for a decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to make the Kremlin-funded RT news agency register as a foreign agent.

The Justice Department set a deadline of Nov. 13 for RT to register as a foreign agency based on accusations that the Russian government-funded cable news network and website was a Kremlin propaganda outlet. The decision came in the wake of investigations into Kremlin attempts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

RT’s chief editor, Margarita Simonyan, said the outlet would register by the deadline but planned to challenge the decision in a U.S. court. Failure to register could result in the seizure of RT’s U.S. bank accounts and the arrest of the senior editor, Simonyan told Russian news outlets.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a news briefing that Russia was now considering retaliatory measures against U.S. media outlets.

“I think that our patience that is nearly run out will take some legal shape. I don’t rule out it will be done next week,” Zakharova told the Rossiya 24 television channel in an interview, the Russian news agency Tass reported.

In the past, Russia has threatened to target Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, both of which receive U.S. government funding. In the past, the ministry also has mentioned CNN, which does not receive U.S. government funds, but is a frequent target of criticism by the Russian government for what it says is anti-Russian bias in its reporting.

RT, formerly known as Russia Today, was started in 2005 with a large budget provided by the Kremlin. The news channel broadcasts in several languages and in dozens of countries around the world, promoting what it calls an alternative view to Western media. Critics have said RT’s programming promotes conspiracy theories and anti-Western ideas.

In a statement posted to its Facebook account Thursday night, the Russian Embassy in the United States said the Justice Department’s decision “created a dangerous precedent.”

“Blatant pressure on the Russian mass media confirms that the United States pursues the course of deliberately hurting our relations,” the statement said. “We consider its demand as a wish to eliminate an alternative source of information, which is an unacceptable violation of the international norms of free press.”

The threat of retaliation against U.S. media from the Kremlin is the latest in a diplomatic standoff that has resulted in both Moscow and Washington being forced to reduce embassy staff and give up diplomatic compounds.

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