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RT America Received More Than $100 Million In Russian Government Funding Since 2017, Filings Show

Russia Today, now rebranded as RT, was ordered to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act by the U.S. Justice Department in 2017. (file photo)
Russia Today, now rebranded as RT, was ordered to register under the Foreign Agent Registration Act by the U.S. Justice Department in 2017. (file photo)

The U.S. production company that runs RT's American operations has received more than $100 million in Russian government funding since 2016, according to public filings, the largest subsidy of any recipient in the United States of so-called "foreign agent" funding from any country over that period.

The Washington-based transparency organization Open Secrets compiled the figures from periodic filings made by the companies themselves under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, a decades-old law known as FARA that is enforced by the U.S. Justice Department.

In 2017, Russia Today, now rebranded as RT, was ordered to register under FARA by the Justice Department. The order was made in the wake of the findings by U.S. intelligence agencies that the channel was part of a broader campaign of Russian propaganda and interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The amount reported by Open Secrets is the bulk, but not the entire amount of spending on foreign lobbying and media in the United States from Russian government sources during that period.

Other U.S. entities that have received Russian government money classified as "foreign agent" funding include two radio stations -- one in the Washington D.C. suburbs, one in Kansas City -- that carry programming from Radio Sputnik, which is separate from RT but related. Additionally, RIA Global, which runs Sputnik, and a Washington lobbying firm, have also reported Russian government funding.

The company that runs RT's operations in the United States is called T&R Productions, which was first registered in Washington, D.C. in 2014.

The data from Open Secrets does not include years prior to 2017, since T&R Productions and other media and lobbying entities receiving Russian government funding had not registered under FARA and were not required to make filings with the Justice Department.

Largest Recipient

Since registering, T&R Productions has reported receiving $104,721,146 from its parent company, known as ANO TV-Novosti, according to Open Secrets, a figure that includes payments for the six-month period ending May 31, 2021. About half of that amount came in 2020.

That makes T&R the largest recipient of "foreign agent" designated funding in the United States during the period 2016-21, according to Open Secrets, which tracks political spending and lobbying in U.S. politics.

In second place was the government of the Marshall Islands.

The other U.S. entities receiving Russian government funding have received nearly $15 million between 2018 and 2021, with the funding channeled via an entity called Federal State Unitary Enterprise Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency.

One of those companies, RM Broadcasting, bought airtime on an AM radio station not far from Washington, D.C. to broadcast Sputnik radio reports. The company, based in Florida, sued in federal court after it was ordered to make FARA filings by the Justice Department, saying its operations did meet the definition of FARA's requirements. But a U.S. judge later rejected that argument.

RT America is one of several divisions the company operates around the world. The main English-language channel, produced in Moscow, is RT International, but it also includes RT UK, which has an office in London, and Spanish- and Arabic-language operations, run from Moscow.

RT's overall budget has fluctuated over the years.

In 2017, the company was budgeted for around $300 million under the funding plan approved by the State Duma. This past June, the business newspaper Vedomosti reported that ANO TV-Novosti received about 27.4 billion rubles ($371 million) in government funding for 2020, and that the Finance Ministry planned to cut that amount slightly, to 27.3 billion rubles, for 2021.

RT has not disclosed data on the total number of employees, Vedomosti said.

In an e-mail to RFE/RL, RT's Deputy Editor In Chief Anna Belkina confirmed the Vedomosti figures were correct.

An e-mail sent to the principal behind T&R Productions, a man named Mikhail Solodovnikov, was not immediately answered.

Regulatory Scrutiny

RT's British operation has fallen afoul of the country's media regulator, Ofcom, in the past. In 2019, the channel was fined 200,000 pounds ($274,295) for what the regulator said was flawed reporting on the 2018 near-fatal poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

RT's German-language operations have also come under close scrutiny in Berlin. The channel, which is produced online from Moscow, has sought a license from German regulators for a regular broadcast channel, but some lawmakers and government agencies have blocked the effort.

RT also has a video agency based in Germany called Ruptly, which in turn has invested in a California media company called Maffick, which produces catchy digital content for social media, like short explainer videos, as well as podcasts.

The Open Secrets figures come as Russia itself has stepped up enforcement of its own "foreign agent" law, targeting a growing number of media outlets and nongovernmental organizations.

The law is set up to target media, NGOs, and individuals that receive funding from outside of Russia.

On August 20, TV Dozhd, an independent news channel, and Vazhniye Istoriye, an investigative news site, were added to the list.

However, Dozhd, which says its advertisers are wholly Russian, not foreign, was targeted because it printed, or broadcast, material from other designated foreign agents, according to Meduza, a Latvian-based news site that has also been designated a foreign agent.

To date, 43 entities and individuals have been designated as foreign agents in Russia, including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and several of its Russian-language news sites, including its flagship Russian-language channel, Current Time.

Intrusive Disclaimer

The Russian law, first passed in 2012, now requires designated media to label their all content with an intrusive disclaimer. Some media have complied, even amid fears that the labels would scare off advertisers. At least one designated Russian news outlet has closed. Meduza has resorted to crowdfunding to continue operating.

RFE/RL has not labeled its content, resulting in the Justice Ministry imposing tens of millions of dollars in fines. RFE/RL has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, and has also moved to shift some of its employees and operations out of Moscow to Kyiv and elsewhere.

In defending the law, Russian officials have frequently drawn a parallel to the American foreign agent law, which dates back to the 1930s.

Speaking during a news conference in Moscow on August 25, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov again tried to defend Russia's actions, particularly against RFE/RL. He asserted, falsely, that RT and Sputnik had been forced to label their content in the United States.

"We have never been the first to start such kind of activities," Lavrov said. "However, if such discriminatory actions are being taken against our media and our citizens, if they are being labeled as foreign agents and persecuted, then of course we will respond. But we will not respond in order to take revenge, simply to bring our relations in a given area to parity."

U.S. officials, however, counter that the U.S. law does not obligate foreign agent media organizations to label or publish or broadcast anything.

Some social media networks, like Google-owned YouTube, where RT has a huge following, began in 2018 to label videos produced by RT and other Russian government-funded media. RFE/RL's YouTube channel carries a similar label.

Other foreign-funded media that have been required to register under the U.S. FARA law include China Global Television Network, the Xinhua News Agency, and a unit of Al-Jazeera, the Qatari-based satellite news channel.

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

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