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Russia Warns of Retaliation Against US Media Over Sanctions 

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends a joint news conference held by Russian Foreign Minister and German Foreign Minister following their meeting in Moscow, Jan. 18, 2022.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova attends a joint news conference held by Russian Foreign Minister and German Foreign Minister following their meeting in Moscow, Jan. 18, 2022.

Moscow on Monday warned several U.S. media outlets of retaliatory measures in response to what it views as restrictions on Russian media.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova met with representatives of a dozen U.S. media outlets in Moscow. According to a journalist with knowledge of the meeting, she made clear "that if the U.S. government doesn't change its attitude toward Russian journalists working in the United States, Russia will carry out similar action against us."

VOA is not revealing the journalist's identity for security reasons.

"During the meeting, Zakharova (said that) accreditation and, by extension, visas would be extended for only three months, and if the U.S. doesn't improve its current treatment of Russian journalists, they would ban us from working in Russia," the journalist added.

Russian authorities usually renew accreditation and visas for international reporters once a year.

The warning came after the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions last month on three of Russia's state-owned stations for acting directly or indirectly on behalf of the Kremlin.

Zakharova cited difficulties for Russian journalists in the U.S., including visa renewals, blocked bank accounts and alleged harassment by U.S. intelligence agencies, two journalists with knowledge of the meeting told VOA.

She said that because of sanctions, many Russian companies had been unable to pay their U.S.-based journalists or cover other expenses.

In response to Moscow's move, the U.S. cited Russia's restrictions on media freedom and access to information.

Blocking and banning independent media outlets, threatening professional journalists and seeking to seal off Russia's population from any foreign information illustrate "the flimsiness and the fragility of the Russian government's narrative," U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during a press briefing on Monday afternoon.

"The Russians continue to make a false equivalency," Price said. "The United States continues to issue visas to qualified Russian journalists, and we have not revoked the foreign press center credentials of any Russian journalists working in the United States."

War coverage

Since invading Ukraine, Russia has imposed several restrictions and drafted new laws affecting media.

In May, its lawmakers passed a bill that gives prosecutors the power to close foreign media bureaus in Moscow if a Western country is deemed "unfriendly" to Russia.

A separate new law carries a 15-year prison term for journalists who spread "fake" news about what Russia calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine.

And Russia on Monday fined Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a sister network of VOA, $325,000 (20 million rubles) for failing to delete what Moscow calls "fake" news about the war.

The fine related to Radio Liberty's refusal to delete reports that included death tolls of civilians and Russian service personnel, Reuters reported.

The International Press Institute in Vienna says Russian authorities have arrested or filed charges against at least 72 journalists in relation to reporting on Ukraine.

Additionally, the country's media regulator has blocked access to news sites including those of VOA's Russian Service and the BBC.

Separate from the Treasury Department sanctions on the Russian outlets Russia One, Channel One and NTV, the European Union, Canada, and private distribution companies in the U.S. earlier moved to stop broadcasts of the Kremlin-backed RT.

Journalists in the Netherlands are currently protesting the EU ban, saying it puts too much power in government hands.

A Dutch journalists' union on May 25 filed a complaint with the EU Court of Justice over the ban on RT. In it, the union says that while it does not endorse the Kremlin-backed group, the EU ban was broad and allowed politicians to censor.

"We all feel that disinformation is a serious problem of our times. Censorship is an easy answer, but it's not the right answer," Reuters quoted the union as saying.

Visa threats

Russia's threat to revoke credentials of U.S. media outlets echoes one carried out during a political spat between the U.S. and China in 2020, when Beijing expelled journalists from several U.S. publications and imposed visa restrictions on some U.S. media groups

Its actions were in response to the U.S. reducing the number of Chinese nationals allowed to work at the U.S. offices of major Chinese state-owned media and limiting their authorized stay to 90 days, with an option to extend.

"By their actions, the Russian and Chinese regimes have demonstrated that they view press freedom and independent journalism as threats to their countries' pseudo-democracies," said Thanos Dimadis, executive director of the Association of Foreign Press Correspondents in the U.S.

He told VOA that authoritarian governments do not hesitate to target journalists and place journalism at the center of their geostrategic ambitions.

"These regimes consider journalists, and especially foreign journalists working in their countries, as agents of foreign interests and not as servants of truth," Dimadis said.

"There is no surprise in this since regimes like Russia and China are hostile to the truth, and those who report that truth, such as journalists, are also their enemies."

Some information in this report came from Reuters.