MOSCOW — Russian lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to pass legislation allowing authorities to force any foreign media organization to register as a "foreign agent" under penalty of fines or a possible ban on operations in Russia.
The legislation, passed 414 to 0 in retaliation for the registration of English-language Russian news network RT under a similar statute in the United States, was drafted hastily and is likely to be signed into law by Russian President Vladimir Putin by the end of the month.
The bill approved by the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, did not include a list of media organizations to be targeted; lawmakers said they would be chosen by Russia's Ministry of Justice.
Likely targets are U.S. news organizations that receive government funding, including Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, as well as the privately owned CNN.
Andrey Isayev, a lawmaker in the ruling United Russia party, has suggested that all three outlets, as well as German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, could be registered under the law.
The law also appears likely to be used to selectively target media from countries in conflict with the Kremlin, especially if that conflict involves the state-funded television station RT, formerly known as Russia Today.
The law is considerably broader than comparable U.S. legislation, which targets only state-funded organizations.
Pyotr Tolstoy, a former journalist turned lawmaker who led the drafting of the legislation, said in an interview that he expects the law to apply to a small number of news organizations at first. But he said the list could grow if Russia believes that more of its news outlets are being pressured abroad.
"This campaign looks like it's going to go on for a long time," Tolstoy said, referring to what he called pressure on Russian journalists abroad. U.S. authorities accuse RT of carrying out a Kremlin-dictated influence campaign aimed at U.S. citizens, a charge the television channel denies.
"Every time, Russia is going to take hard response measures," he said. "This is not a country you can dictate terms to."
He added that lawmakers were also reviewing laws about advertising on Facebook and Twitter, the latter having recently blocked RT from advertising on the site. "We are listening carefully to the questions our colleagues in [the U.S.] Congress are asking," he said, "and we have questions of our own."
The move comes in response to a U.S. Justice Department requirement that RT register as a foreign agent because of its alleged role in interfering in U.S. affairs and the 2016 presidential election by pushing the Kremlin's agenda. Russia denies it meddled in the election campaign.
In Washington, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) denounced the new Russian law, saying there is "no equivalence" between RT and networks such as the Voice of America, CNN and the BBC, whose journalists "seek the truth, debunk lies, and hold governments accountable." By contrast, he said in a statement, "RT's propagandists debunk the truth, spread lies, and seek to undermine democratic governments in order to further Vladimir Putin's agenda."
William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.