The Kremlin’s threat to foreign press freedom

The Kremlin continued its retaliation against the investigation into Russian hacking during the 2016 US election this week, forcing through a new law targeting foreign media. The law will require reporters from non-Russian news agencies to declare their funding sources, and label their own reporting as coming from ‘foreign agents’, an attempt to undermine the validity of the stories. The law was forced through both houses of the Russian parliament, and signed by President Putin on Tuesday.

This marks the continued escalation of the media war that has broken out since the pilling up on allegations about Russian intervention in Donald Trump’s victory over Hilary Clinton last year.

Culminating in the appointment of a Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, the US has been grappling with the possibility that the sitting President, or at least his campaign, conspired with a foreign enemy to win an election. More specifically, this area of the controversy relates to the use of Russian bots and news networks to spread ‘fake news’ during the campaign. Recently, the US has sought to crack down on Sputnik and RT, two international Russian media outlets, both state-owned, and the Kremlin has said that the requirement for western media to register as detailed is in response to this. Sputnik and RT, however, very much tow the line of the Russian government, given that they are funded by the Kremlin, and are not often considered as reputable news sources. This is a sharp divergence from the western media, which is almost never funded from the government and so is often free to be more critical, both internally and externally, free from the fear of political or economic repercussions.

This latest move could only be the start, with the Mueller investigation moving towards more indictments, and revealing further Russian covert operations. If more revelations were to emerge, the west should expect increased retaliation from Moscow, as the new cyber war continues apace. Allegations about Russian bots usage during the 2016 British EU referendum, mentioned by EU President Donald Tusk and reinforced strongly by a sharply critical speech on Russia by Theresa May several weeks ago, have drawn Europe into the conflict. Though new technology muddies the waters, the old cold war tensions remain.


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May 2022
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