Russia’s foreign ministry called U.S. news media to a meeting on Monday to warn that their accreditations and visas could be withdrawn if the United States does not rescind measures limiting Russian journalists there.
The warning from ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova comes amid high tensions with the West over what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine, where Russian forces have taken substantial territory.
The Kremlin-funded TV channel RT was dropped by U.S. cable and satellite operators, state-run TV stations have been targeted by U.S. sanctions and YouTube has blocked many official Russian channels, including feeds of Zakharova’s weekly briefings.
Zakharova also said Russian journalists have been denied U.S. visas or extensions of them and that some have been detained for lengthy interrogations at airports.
“Why on earth would we have to endure all this? If they want to destroy our media space, then we will destroy it together,” she said. “You see, it’s like cutting a dog’s tail piece by piece. Let’s cut it off right away and not suffer.”
“If our journalists are not restored in their rights, and our Russian media are not restored their rights, these same measures will affect you,” Zakharova said.
“When you do not receive visas, when you do not have accreditation … please, please don’t say we didn’t talk about it,” she told representatives of The Associated Press and other U.S. media outlets.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that Moscow is making “a false equivalency.”
“The Russian government fundamentally and willfully disregards what it means to have a free press as evidenced by them blocking or banning nearly every independent Russian outlet seeking to report inside their country,” Price said.
He added that the U.S. “continues to issue visas to qualified Russian journalists and we have not revoked the foreign press center credentials of any Russian journalists working in the United States.”
Many foreign news organizations suspended or curtailed their operations in Russia following the passage in March of a law calling for up to 15 years in prison for reports seen as discrediting the Russian military.
Zakharova did not state a timeframe for when Russia could take action. But journalist visa and accreditation renewals are being issued only for three-month periods.
She dismissed concern about the short-term extensions, saying “this is our greatest patience.”
Last month, the foreign ministry ordered the closure of the state-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Moscow bureau in response to Canada’s ban on RT. In February, as Russia built up troops along Ukraine’s border, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle was ordered to close in Moscow after Germany banned the broadcast of RT’s German-language programs.
Russia last year refused to renew the visa of Sarah Rainsford, a longtime reporter for the BBC in Moscow.