Russia President Vladimir Putin spoke this week on the dangers of election meddling via web-based social media. He did this after signing into law a means for Russian officials to label news organizations “foreign agents.” Earlier this year Russia was accused of meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election with social media and with other digital means.
On Monday, Putin’s biggest political rival Alexei Navalny was banned from running in the 2018 Russia Presidential Election due to a suspended prison sentence. Without major opposition in place, Putin appears set to be re-elected for another 6-year term. Putin was President of the Russian Federation from 2000 to 2008, then again starting in 2012 (through today.)
Putin was also Prime Minister of the Russian Federation in 1999, 2000, then again from 2008 until 2012. In other words, Putin has either been number 1 or number 2 in political power in Russia since 1999.
November of 2017, Putin signed a law that allowed authorities to designate media outlets as official “foreign agents.” Putin suggested that this was due to political pressure action on the part of US-based media outlets. Recent actions by Google and Twitter likely had something to do with the action as well.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America (VOA) were both designated foreign agents by the Russian government since the law was signed by Putin. These groups now need to provide sources of funding and other details about their organization before operating in Russia, so says Rueters. Putin spoke with Russian parliament this week about the new law.
Putin, per Rueters: “We need to look carefully at how some companies work in internet, in social media, and how widely they are involved in our domestic political life. It should be carefully analyzed how they are operating and will be operating during the presidential election.”
Putin, per the Kremlin: “We do need to look at how some companies work on the internet and in social networks as well as how much they are involved in our internal political life. In addition to this, we will need to analyse their behaviour now and during the presidential election campaign.”
“In this context – this is not a decision, only a thought – we must not restrict the freedom of the internet,” said Putin, via the Kremlin. Oddly, Putin went on to suggest that the Russian government didn’t need to do anything soon, just… at some point.
“What is the situation in Russia? How many foreign agents are working here?” said Putin, via Kremlin. “I am not urging anyone to take hasty decisions. This is not something that needs to be done immediately or before the elections. We need to see what is going on, to analyse the situation, and only then make a decision, provided we decide that any decision is really necessary.”
Russian officials suggest that their actions are only in response to actions taken by the government in the United States. President Trump suggested several times this year, several times immediately after speaking with Putin personally, that Russia did not interfere with the Presidential Election which elected Trump. The United States major intelligence operations – both the FBI and the CIA – suggest otherwise.