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Russia Warns US-funded RFE/RL It May Face 'Restrictions'

FILE - A sign for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is seen next to a U.S. flag at the U.S.-funded broadcaster's headquarters in central Prague, Czech Republic, Oct. 5, 2005.

The Russian Justice Ministry has warned U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that it may impose restrictions on some of the broadcaster's operations in Russia in response to what Moscow claims is pressure on Russian state-funded outlets in the United States.

The ministry said in a letter dated October 9 that the operations of Current Time television, the Russian-language network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America, fall under Article 2 of Russian law on NGOs and foreign agents, and that Russia therefore retains the right to impose restrictions on Current Time.

"The activity of your organization may be subjected to restrictions envisioned in the legislation of the Russian Federation," the statement, signed by ministry official Vladimir Titov, said.

RFE/RL's Russian Service, known as Radio Svoboda, and Idel Realii, a Russian-language site run by the broadcaster's Tatar-Bashkir Service, received similar letters.

"Current Time, Radio Svoboda, and Idel Realii are journalistic organizations. We trust we will be able to continue our work," RFE/RL Vice President and Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic said in a statement in response to the letter.

U.S. law enforcement agencies have been looking into the operations of at least two Russian media outlets — the satellite TV channel RT and the news website Sputnik.

Funded by the Russian government, RT was accused in a U.S. intelligence report of being one of the primary channels through which the Kremlin sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Since then, calls have grown in Washington to force RT and Sputnik to register under a 79-year-old law initially aimed at restricting Nazi propaganda. During the Soviet era, some Russian-language media, including the newspaper Pravda and the wire agency TASS, registered as foreign agents.

Last month, RT chief editor Margarita Simonyan said U.S. officials had ordered the channel to register under the foreign-agent law. The Justice Department has repeatedly declined to comment.

John Lansing, director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors which oversees VOA, and RFE/RL, said in a statement late Monday that the BBG networks are "free and independent of the United States' government and deeply honest and independent journalism on behalf of our audiences around the world."

"Any attempt to stifle them by authoritarian regimes is a direct assault on the rights of all people around the globe to have access to the free flow of truthful information," Lansing said.

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