Russia labels investigative news outlet Bellingcat a ‘foreign agent’

Russia has designated the Bellingcat investigative news outlet a “foreign agent” along with nine journalists and three media organisations — hours after a Russian journalist won the 2021 Nobel peace prize.

The designations, which targeted one employee of the BBC’s Russian service, are the latest twist in a crackdown on media outlets that the authorities in Moscow see as hostile and foreign-backed.

The outlets and western governments say the campaign is designed to hamper their work and muffle dissent, something the Kremlin denies.

The foreign agent designation has cold war-era connotations and requires designees to prominently indicate in all their content that they are “foreign agents”, something which hurts advertising revenue. It also imposes burdensome financial reporting requirements.

The Ministry of Justice said in a statement it had added three companies to its foreign agent registry, including Dutch-registered entity Stichting Bellingcat.

Nine individuals were also named, including reporters for the BBC, US broadcaster RFE/RL , Dozhd independent TV, and The New Times, among others.

The two other news outlets labeled as foreign agents were the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) that covers events in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region and M.News online publication.

The announcement came the same day as the Nobel peace prize was awarded to Russian newspaper editor Dmitry Muratov along with a journalist from the Philippines, in what the committee called an endorsement of free speech rights in jeopardy around the world.

Bellingcat has angered Moscow for years with investigations into the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and the downing of the MH17 passenger plane over eastern Ukraine.

“What took you so long?” tweeted Christo Grozev, an investigator for Bellingcat.

“Bellingcat has been deemed such a threat to Russia that we’ve been declared a foreign agent,” said Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat’s founder. “I guess this is the Russian Nobel prize?”

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