New legislation approved by Russia’s State Duma on November 21 in the final reading paves the way for journalists to be labelled “foreign agents” and allows the Kremlin to label ordinary people also as foreign agents if they collaborate with foreign media organisations and receive financial or other material support from them.

The new bill also gives Russia’s security services the power to label reporters who work for organisations officially listed as foreign agents themselves.

The Kremlin passed the original foreign agent law – which requires all NGOs receiving foreign funding to register – in 2012 following the largest anti-government protests since Vladimir Putin came to power. Putin blamed Western influence, the media, and money for the protests.

Russia’s Justice Ministry listed Current Time TV, several RFE/RL services and projects, such as its Russian Service, Tatar-Bashkir Service, Sibir.Realii, Idel.Realii, Factograph, Kavkaz Realii, and Krym.Realii, as well as the Voice of America, as “foreign mass media performing the functions of a foreign agent” in December 2017,

Moscow claims the law is a response to a decision by the American government to require RT (formerly Russia Today), the Kremlin’s English-language mouthpiece, to register its US operating unit under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). US law enforcement officials have accused RT of spreading pro-Kremlin propaganda to the right-wing media in the United States.

The European Union offered a tepid rebuke of the Kremlin’s latest move saying “the further extension of the scope of the legislation is yet another worrying step against free and independent media and access to information as well as further attempt to silence independent voices in Russia”.

Russia’s Supreme Court recently ruled to dissolve one of the oldest human rights organisations in the country, the movement For Human Rights, after it was labelled a “foreign agent”.

“Our information field must be regulated. It is not a question of closing the information field, it’s not like what Western countries do by denying accreditation to Russian journalists or blocking Russian television channels. This is a matter of identifying registration, nothing more,” Alexei Vishnevetsky, Deputy Chairman of the Russian Union of Journalists said in defence of the law that sparked a public outcry.

“We support the call by OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media for Russian lawmakers to abandon the law”, the EU stated.

Putin is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks.