Russian Justice Ministry Declares RFE/RL's Sever.Realii Website 'Foreign Agent'

Russia's Justice Ministry has issued a statement listing RFE/RL's Sever.Realii website as "foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent."

In a statement on its website, the ministry said on November 15 that the decision to label the website of RFE/RL's Russian Service that focuses on events in Russia's northwestern regions had been based on conclusions made by the parliamentary committee on an investigation into meddling in the country's internal affairs.

Sever.Realii began operating in September.

A Russian bill enabling the government to designate any foreign media outlet a "foreign agent" was signed by President Vladimir Putin in November 2017.

Just days after that, in December 2017, the Justice Ministry listed Current Time, several RFE/RL services and projects, such as its Russian Service, Tatar-Bashkir Service, Sibir.Realii, Idel.Realii, Factograph, Kavkaz Realii, and Krym.Realii, as well as Voice of America, as "foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent."

"This 'foreign agent' designation is politically motivated and targets RFE/RL's Sever.Realii unit for northwestern Russia, as it has been used to target other RFE/RL Russian-speaking services," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement. "It is an attempt to silence independent media in Russia and deprive Russian audiences of access to information that is not under Kremlin control. U.S. law guarantees RFE/RL's editorial independence. Any suggestion that we or our journalists are agents of any government is false."

Russian officials have said the law is a "symmetrical response" after Russia's state-funded channel RT -- which U.S. authorities accuse of spreading propaganda -- was required to register its U.S. operating unit under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

U.S. officials have said the action is not symmetrical, arguing that the U.S. and Russian laws are different and that Russia uses its "foreign-agent" legislation to silence dissent and discourage a free exchange of ideas.