Russia-focused, American government-funded investigative outlet Bellingcat officially labelled ‘foreign agent’ by Moscow
The Russian Ministry of Justice has included Netherlands-based digital investigations team Bellingcat in a list of ‘foreign agents’ published on Friday, along with journalists working for US state-run media RFERL and the UK’s BBC.
In a statement, officials in Moscow confirmed that the organization, founded by British blogger Eliot Higgins in 2014, was among the outlets handed the designation, along with American-owned online current affairs site MNews.
Nine individuals were also labelled ‘foreign agents,’ including employees of the Russian arm of the BBC, RFERL, 7x7 and television channel Dozhd. Dozhd, also known as TV Rain, was given the same status as an organization in August.
Bellingcat has won a number of awards, in the West, for investigations into a number of issues, including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the east of Ukraine and the alleged poisoning of jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny.Also on rt.com Russia brands liberal TV news channel Dozhd a ‘foreign agent’ over links to overseas funding from West & cash from Big Pharma firm
However, Russian officials insist that the group maintains close ties to Western spy agencies and receives confidential information to form the basis of its revelations. Russia’s foreign intelligence chief Sergey Naryshkin said in August that Bellingcat “is needed to exert pressure either on the country, or on individuals and legal entities.”
Bellingcat is funded by the US government, through the National Endowment for Democracy, and reportedly maintains financial ties to the British and Dutch governments, alleging that it reserves its harshest criticism for politically convenient opponents of those nations, most prominently Russia.
Others have also claimed that confidential information used by the group as part of their investigations had likely been passed on by Western intelligence agencies in order to publish their narrative without their direct involvement. Bellingcat denies these charges and maintains that it is independent.
Groups handed the ‘foreign agent’ designation are required to include it prominently in their published materials when operating in Russia. Bellingcat, however, has little if any footprint within the country, working through affiliated organizations.Also on rt.com What have they got to hide? While trying to dismiss suggestions of ties to UK spooks, Bellingcat founder again lies about finances
While there has been an outcry in recent weeks over a sharp increase in the number of groups and media outlets branded with the status, the Russian government insists that it is a proportionate response to attempts to interfere in the country’s domestic affairs.
“If you get money from abroad to partake in domestic political activities – say so explicitly,” Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. “He who pays the piper calls the tune, you know. And if you receive funding from abroad, there are strong reasons to believe you are taking orders from those who pay you.”
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