The move by the State Duma on March 17 comes just days after U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (Democrat-New Hampshire) introduced a bill that would empower the Justice Department to investigate possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act by RT, the state-backed Russian TV channel.
The Russian initiative was introduced by Konstantin Zatulin, a member of President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, which holds an overwhelming majority in the Duma — Russia’s lower chamber of parliament.
Approved by lawmakers on March 17, the move instructs the Duma’s committee on information policy to probe compliance with Russian laws by VOA, CNN, and RFE/RL’s Russian Service, known locally as Radio Svoboda.
Zatulin specifically linked the probe to Shaheen’s bill, which cited an assessment by U.S. intelligence that RT was used as part of a Kremlin-directed hacking and public-influence campaign aimed at helping President Donald Trump defeat his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, in last year’s presidential election.
RT and the Kremlin reject the accusation. RT is funded by the Russian government, but argues it is editorially independent from the Kremlin.
Both RFE/RL and VOA are overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), a U.S. agency that supervises civilian government broadcasting and media operations.
VOA is a federal entity, while RFE/RL is a private, nonprofit organization funded by a grant from the U.S. Congress.
CNN has also come under fire from Moscow over its coverage of alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election and purported ties between associates of Trump and Russian officials.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova earlier this month accused the Atlanta-based international news network, which Trump has repeatedly criticized as well, of spreading “false news.”
Shaheen told RFE/RL that it appeared her legislation had struck a nerve with the Kremlin and some Duma members.
“My bill is straightforward: RT News has made public statements boasting that it can dodge our laws with shell corporations, and this legislation gives the Department of Justice the authority it needs to fully investigate,” Shaheen said in a statement.
The Foreign Agents Registration Act is a decades-old law that requires anyone working in the United States on behalf of a foreign government, “in a political or quasi-political capacity,” to register with the Justice Department.