Russia has branded four more media outlets as "foreign agents," adding to the growing list of news organizations and individual journalists caught up in what critics say is an accelerated Kremlin campaign against independent media ahead of nationwide legislative elections later this month.
The Justice Ministry announced on September 3 that it had added four legal entities to its controversial registry of "foreign media performing the functions of a foreign agent": Altair 2021 LLC, Vega 2021 LLC, Editor-in-Chief 2021 LLC, and Romashki Monolit LLC.
All four were founded by Russian journalists who had previously been named as individuals to the registry: former Open Media correspondents Maksim Glinken and Ilya Rozhdestvensky; former Open Media editor in chief Yulia Yarosh; and former Proyekt (The Project) journalists Yulia Lukyanova, Sonya Groysman, Maria Zheleznova, Olga Churakova, and Pyotr Manyakhin.
The investigative news outlet The Project was effectively neutered in mid-July when it was declared an "undesirable" organization in what was seen as a major escalation of the Kremlin's clampdown on independent media ahead of the September 17-19 elections, which will determine the next State Duma as well as some regional heads and city mayors.
The Project has published a number of well-researched, unflattering, and sometimes embarrassing investigations into Russia's ruling elite.
Open Media was closed last month after its website was blocked by the Russian authorities. The news outlet said at the time it had not received an explanation for why it was blocked. While Open Media acknowledged having received a grant from self-exiled Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, it said it had never worked with "undesirable" organizations.
The four new entities to the "foreign agent" list adds to the number of independent media outlets and journalists identified as “foreign agents” or “undesirable” -- labels that imply an attempt to discredit the journalists or that apply additional government scrutiny.
Russia’s controversial “foreign agent” legislation was adopted in 2012 and has been modified repeatedly. It requires nongovernmental organizations that receive foreign assistance and that the government deems to be engaged in political activity to be registered, to identify themselves as “foreign agents,” and to submit to audits.
The "undesirable" organization law, adopted in May 2015 and since updated, was part of a series of regulations pushed by the Kremlin that squeezed many nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from foreign sources -- mainly from Europe and the United States.
In addition to the labeling requirements pertaining to all published messages and materials, the four newly named "foreign agent" legal entities must provide information to the Justice Ministry and report on their activities every six months.
In 2017, the Russian government placed RFE/RL's Russian Service on the "foreign agents" list, along with six other RFE/RL Russian-language news services and Current Time, the Russian-language network run by RFF/RL in cooperation with Voice of America (VOA). The Russian Service of VOA was also added to the list.
At the end of 2020, the legislation was modified again to allow the Russian government to include individuals, including foreign journalists, on the "foreign agent" list and to impose restrictions on them.
The Kremlin denies claims by critics that it has clamped down on independent media through the use of the "foreign agent" and "undesirable" labels ahead of the legislative and local elections.