An American radio broadcaster blasting out Kremlin propaganda officially registered as an agent of a foreign government this week.
In paperwork filed with the Department of Justice on Wednesday, Sputnik Radio, which is owned and operated by Rossiya Segodnya, an agency of the Russian Federation, disclosed its payments to a D.C.-based media lawyer handling the company’s takeover of a northern Virginia bluegrass radio station and its subsequent news broadcasts.
Sputnik’s registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) comes days after another state-sponsored Russian broadcaster, RT, filed similar paperwork. The network did that over the vehement objections of its leaders, who say it is an independent news outlet, not an agent of the Russian government.
Under the terms of the contract posted on DOJ’s website, Sputnik will pay $900,000 to a broadcasting company owned by John Garziglia, a communications attorney. That company will, in turn, broadcast programming from a Sputnik internet stream through a radio station in Reston, Virginia. The station, 105.5 FM, aired bluegrass music until Sputnik programming took over in June.
Foreign agent registrations from RT and Sputnik came after the Justice Department threatened to investigate both networks under the FARA law, which requires the disclosure of financial and operational information by entities conducting lobbying or public relations in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments or political parties.
Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of both RT and Sputnik, criticized DOJ’s decision, and sarcastically swiped at American ideals in a statement on RT’s FARA registration. “Between a criminal case and registration, we chose the latter,” she said. “We congratulate American freedom of speech and all those who still believe in it.”
U.S. intelligence agencies believe that both RT and Sputnik were components of a Russian disinformation operation during the 2016 election to sway American attitudes toward the two major candidates and, more generally, to sow confusion and discord among the electorate.
DOJ’s crackdown on the networks marks a significant escalation of FARA enforcement, and the Russian government has responded in kind. This week, the Duma, the Russian assembly, passed a law imposing its own “foreign agent” moniker on America-owned news organizations, in particular state-sponsored broadcasters such as Radio Free Europe.
“This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russia,” said Denis Krivosheev, an official at Amnesty International, in a statement on the Russian law. “Over the last couple of years, the Kremlin has been tirelessly building a media echo chamber that shuts out critical voices, both inside Russia and from abroad.”
As with RT’s FARA filing, DOJ will now review Sputnik’s to determine whether it fully complies with FARA disclosure requirements. There is no timeline for when a decision will be made.
UPDATE: This story has been updated to clarify that it is Sputnik's U.S. broadcasting arm—not Sputnik itself—which is registering as a foreign agent.