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Moscow mulls next move in escalating media spat with US

By The Associated Press
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MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin voiced dismay Thursday over the withdrawal of a Russian state-funded TV station's credentials in the U.S. and warned of a quick retaliation.

A committee that governs Capitol Hill access for broadcast journalists on Wednesday withdrew credentials for Kremlin-funded RT after the company complied earlier this month with a U.S. demand that it register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, denounced the move as a violation of media freedom and "extremely hostile act," adding that "we are deeply disappointed."

"Such hostile and undemocratic decisions can't be left without an answer," he said in a conference call with reporters. "You don't have to be a soothsayer to forecast an emotional response from our lawmakers regarding the U.S. media."

Senior Russian lawmakers warned that representatives of the U.S. media can lose access to parliament and government agencies as a quid pro quo. Foreign correspondents in Russia can currently access the Russian parliament and some government agencies with their press credentials issued by the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, said the U.S. move was a "challenge to the universal values of freedom of speech."

"This is an attack on the foundation of democracy, and we aren't going to tolerate it," he said. "We are considering options for a symmetrical, quid pro quo response to the hostile U.S. actions. They will come soon."

The production company for RT's American operation, T&R Productions, said in a statement that withdrawing the credentials "runs directly counter to the notion that FARA is not intended to interfere or restrict fair journalistic freedom and media access. We hope the executive committee will reconsider its vote."

The U.S. move and the Russian threats of retaliation follow the endorsement of a new Russian bill that allowed the government to designate international media outlets as foreign agents in response to the U.S. demand made to the RT TV channel.

The bill, quickly passed by the Russian parliament and signed into law by Putin over the weekend, says that any government- or private-funded foreign news outlets could be declared foreign agents, leaving it to the Justice Ministry to single them out.

The ministry already has notified the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, along with its regional outlets, that they could be designated as foreign agents under the new law.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged that RT served as a tool for the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia has denied any interference.

Russia's hopes for better relations with the U.S. under President Donald Trump have been shattered amid the Congressional and FBI investigations into alleged ties between Trump campaign in Russia.

Speaking in a TV interview broadcast Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the Russia-U.S. relations are in "horrible" shape, the lowest point since Cold War times.

"Some American politicians are trying to solve their problems and put pressure on their president by playing the 'Russian card,'" Medvedev said.

He drew a parallel with a hunt for purported communist infiltrators in the 1950s led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy that often involved unfounded accusations and sowed fear, adding that "even then it wasn't about settling scores with their own president."

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Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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