MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is within its rights to restrict the operations of U.S. media organizations in Russia in retaliation for what Moscow calls U.S. pressure on a Kremlin-backed TV station, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Sunday.
Russian officials have accused Washington of putting unwarranted pressure on the U.S. operations of RT, a Kremlin-funded broadcaster accused by some in Washington of interfering in domestic U.S. politics, which it denies.
The foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said the full weight of the U.S. authorities was being brought to bear against RT’s operations in the United States, and that Moscow had the right to respond.
“We have never used Russian law in relation to foreign correspondents as a lever of pressure, or censorship, or some kind of political influence, never,” Zakharova said in an interview with Russia’s NTV broadcaster. “But this is a particular case.”
She cited a 1991 Russian law which, she said, stated that if a Russian media outlet is subject to restrictions in a foreign country, then Moscow has the right to impose proportionate restrictions on media outlets from that country operating inside Russia.
“Correspondingly, everything that Russian journalists and the RT station are subject to on U.S. soil, after we qualified it as restriction of their activities, we can apply similar measures to American journalists, American media here, on Russian territory,” Zakharova said.
She did not identify any specific U.S. media outlets that would be targeted. She said it made no difference from the Russian government’s point of view if those outlets were backed by the U.S. state, or privately-funded.
Late last month, Russia’s state communications regulator accused U.S. TV channel CNN International of violating its license to broadcast in Russia and said it had summoned the broadcaster’s representatives in connection with the matter.
The watchdog did not publicly disclose the nature of the violation. The head of the regulator said it was a technical matter and denied that politics was involved.
U.S. intelligence officials, in a report in January this year into allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, said RT was part of a state-run propaganda machine that supported a Kremlin campaign to influence U.S. politics.
Russia Today, and Russian officials, have denied any attempt to interfere in U.S. politics. They say that political forces in the United States are whipping up hysteria about Russia’s influence to discredit President Donald Trump.
Reporting by Christian Lowe; Editing by Peter Graff