Putin Threatens to Shutter Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Russia

In his latest move to control the information environment in Russia, President Vladimir Putin has taken legal actions that could force the closure of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Moscow bureau, according to a new piece in The Jamestown Foundation’s Eurasia Daily Monitor by Thomas Kent, a former president of RFE/RL and a Senior Fellow at Jamestown.

In, “Putin May Cripple the US’s Strongest Voice in Russia,” Kent explains that Russian regulatory authorities have declared some RFE/RL contributors individually to be foreign agents—for many Russians, a term virtually equivalent to “spies.” The state telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, has demanded that “every RFE/RL news article declare, in type twice the size of the article’s text, that it was produced by foreign agents. Every video is to start with a similar warning, shown for 15 seconds (Roskomnadzor, September 23, 2020). RFE/RL fears that agreeing to these demands would destroy its reputation as an independent news source, intimidate its audience and encourage even more draconian laws.”

Roskomnadzor filed initial charges this month against RFE/RL for non-compliance with the labeling rules, and given the hefty finds that could be levied on the organization and its individual staff, the actions could force closure of the RFE/RL bureau in Moscow at the start of the Biden administration. “To prevent this, Biden’s team will have to review what inducements or threats it can deploy immediately to make Moscow stay its hand,” according to Kent. One option is for the United States to threaten similar action against Russia’s RT and Sputnik outlets but it is unclear what impact that would have on Putin.

Kent’s recent book, Striking Back: Overt and Covert Options to Combat Russian Disinformation, was published by Jamestown in September.