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Russian Lawmakers Accuse RFE/RL, VOA Of Election Interference

Leonid Levin, head of the Duma's information policy committee,
Leonid Levin, head of the Duma's information policy committee,

Pro-Kremlin Russian lawmakers have accused the Russian-language services of RFE/RL and Voice of America of using "propaganda" to sow confusion during parliamentary elections last year as part of what they claimed was a broader U.S. influence campaign.

The accusations came during a May 19 discussion in the State Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, of a report commissioned by lawmakers on whether the two outlets, as well as the private U.S. network CNN, were in compliance with Russian laws.

Leonid Levin, head of the Duma's information policy committee, accused RFE/RL and VOA of "engaging in propaganda and sowing confusion in the Russian electoral process" during the September 2016 parliamentary elections.

Levin alleged that this was part of a broader U.S. influence campaign involving nongovernment organizations deemed "foreign agents" under a controversial law tightening restrictions on foreign funding for "political" activities.

"RFE/RL is a news organization with an independent editorial policy that seeks to report news fairly and objectively," said Joanna Levison, RFE/RL’s director of media and public affairs.

The accusations echo those leveled by U.S. intelligence agencies against Russian state-run network RT during last year's U.S. presidential election.

U.S. intelligence officials say Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an "influence campaign" using hacking and propaganda in a bid to discredit the process and hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who lost to Donald Trump. The Kremlin denies it.

Both RFE/RL and VOA are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors, a U.S. agency that supervises civilian government broadcasting and media operations.

VOA is a federal entity, while RFE/RL is a private, nonprofit organization funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress.

Levin's committee produced the report in response to a bill submitted in March by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) that would empower U.S. authorities to investigate possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT.

The Duma is dominated by lawmakers who are loyal to Putin.

With reporting by Kommersant and TASS
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