The surprise move by the FBI against RT and Sputnik would force both media outlets to register as “foreign agents” as opposed to journalists, under the obscure Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
The obscure law was designed to target Nazi propaganda during the 1930s, but the act has hardly ever been invoked.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has meanwhile issued Russia’s response to the US probe.
She called the announcement by US authorities a violation of America’s own free speech laws. She also stated that it was unacceptable for a so-called democracy to behave in such a way to curb responsible media outlets.
Zakharova said: “We reserve the right to respond to the outrageous actions of the American side.”
Most US broadcasters operate freely in Russia. Against this background, the US may be on the verge of setting a nasty precedent.
Sputnik and RT both are part of a large group of foreign owned media networks which have offices in the United States, but unlike the British BBC which is also state-owned, the Qatari state-owned Al Jazeera, the Saudi state-owned Al Arabiya or the Canadian state owned CBC, only RT and Sputnik have been threatened by the FBI.
Just before leaving office, Barack Obama had in fact pledged more funding and better resources for media sources operating outside the US.
Russian media is ironically now being targeted by a law originally designed against Hitler, the great opponent of the Soviet and Russian people, adding insult to injury.
NATO officials meanwhile have been watching Russia’s biggest war games since 2013 in the Baltics and are “unnerved” by what they see as “Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West”, Reuters reported.
NATO must be getting worried that Russia’s intervention at the invitation of Syria has undoubtedly made Russia a major player in the Middle East.
Lieutenant general Alexander Lapin, the head of the Russian contingent in Syria, had noted earlier that Russian airstrikes had helped Syrian troops to break the three-year ISIS siege around Deir Ezzor last week, adding that only 15 percent of Syrian territory remains under the control of extremist Islamist groups.
A senior European security official told Reuters that the war games in the Baltics dubbed “Zapad” was a “complex, multi-dimensional aggressive, anti-NATO exercise”.
But another senior NATO official involved in military planning, was more cautious. “The last thing we want is a military escalation with Russia.”
The exercises were in response to NATO dispatching four multinational battalions to rotate around the Baltics and Poland last year. Some 30 000 NATO troops were deployed in Poland, reportedly the allies’ largest eastern European military exercise since the end of the Cold War.