October 15, 2021
Russian media outlets reported spending more than $146 million on foreign influence operations and propaganda in the U.S. since 2016, with over $16 million on propaganda targeting the U.S. in 2021, OpenSecrets’ analysis of new Foreign Agents Registration Act records shows.
And that’s just the spending that Russian foreign agents have disclosed to the Justice Department under FARA.
The U.S. government has identified multiple online media sites that are directed by Russian intelligence services and not disclosed through FARA, spreading disinformation to undermine COVID-19 vaccines produced outside Russia. Social media platforms have also become a breeding ground for even more Russian propaganda campaigns that are often not disclosed in FARA filings.
Faced with rising concerns about Russian interference in U.S. elections and foreign influence more generally, the Justice Department has compelled multiple broadcasters and other middlemen helping Russian propaganda efforts targeting the U.S. to register as foreign agents.
During the 2020 presidential election, the Kremlin poured money into TV and media outlets aimed at influencing voters while tensions rose between the two countries. During the 2016 presidential election, the Russian government interfered to boost former President Donald Trump. Russia’s top media spenders include RIA Novosti and Rossiya Segodnya, government entities that administer global broadcasts of Russian state-funded networks RT and Sputnik.
In August 2020, Rossiya Segodnya contracted with Ghebi LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based production company incorporated by the editor-in-chief of a U.S. production company working for the Russian media entity called RIA Global. Since then, the LLC has reported more than $2.7 million in payments from the Russian government’s media entity that administers Sputnik.
The Russian government’s propaganda spending is rivaled most intensely by China, which spent more than any other country in 2020.
Chinese foreign agents reported about $67.2 million in total 2020 lobbying and influence spending. More than 80% of China’s foreign influence spending in the U.S. came from Chinese state-owned media outlet CGTN TV and the CCP’s English-language newspaper, China Daily.
Like Russia’s state media apparatus, many of China’s state-owned outlets have also been compelled to register under FARA.
The Justice Department is not the only federal agency cracking down on foreign media.
In April, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to adopt rules requiring public disclosure of broadcast television and radio content sponsored or provided by foreign governments.
And the FCC adopted new rules requiring broadcasters to disclose when leased programming is sponsored or supplied by foreign governments, political parties or foreign agents as defined by FARA.
That order came after reports of Russian programming being aired by U.S. broadcasters during the 2020 election and growing concerns over Kremlin propaganda seeking to influence U.S. elections.
But in July, the FCC announced that broadcasters didn’t need to comply with the new rules until its public comment period was over and the change was considered finalized. The FCC’s comment period came to a close on Sept. 30 and next steps haven’t been publicly announced.
Russia has countered the U.S. media crackdown with new rules of its own to justify implementing laws targeting journalists, activists and civil society groups that receive international funding.
While the Russian foreign agent law and FARA use similar terminology, Russia’s law is far more expansive and has been implemented in a way to quash dissent.
Russia’s sweeping foreign law has continued to expand. December 2020 modifications enabled the Russian government to impose restrictions on foreign journalists and other individuals it deems foreign agents, opening the door for the Russian government to add several journalists and news outlets to the list. The media list has swelled to 85 foreign agents, including associates of U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America. Investigative news site Bellingcat was added to the list on Oct. 8.
New rules issued Sept. 28 also put any news organizations or journalists in Russia at risk of being labeled foreign agents if they cover corruption, crime or other issues within the military and space industries.