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Russia expands 'foreign agent' crackdown to cover military sector

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By Reuters

MOSCOW – Russia’s main domestic spy agency has listed dozens of types of information for which Russians who disclose them abroad can be branded as “foreign agents”, a move critics say creates risks for journalists who cover the army or space.

Russia broadened its legislation against “foreign agents” last year so that people can be designated if they deliberately gather military or military-technical information seen as used in the interests of a foreign government or organisation.

The Federal Security Service published a list of 60 non-classified topics on a government website late on Thursday, many of them related to the military, that it said could be used by foreign governments against Russia’s security.

The list includes topics like military procurement, troop morale, the whereabouts of soldiers, troop numbers, their personal data and problems hindering the development of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos.

Both Russians and non-Russians can be labelled as foreign agents under the legislation.

Designated people can be fined and even jailed for up to five years for failing to meet requirements, such as presenting documents to be formally added to Russia’s state registry of foreign agents.

Russia has in recent months named several media outlets and dozens of journalists as “foreign agents”. It is a designation with Cold War-era connotations that requires outlets to prominently indicate in all their content that they are “foreign agents”, which reduces their advertising revenue.

Russia says that the legislation is needed to protect against foreign meddling and that designated journalists and outlets are still able to operate.

Ivan Pavlov, a human rights lawyer who left Russia last month, said that the categories were broad and would make it risky for journalists who cover the military and Russian space corporation to work.

“…It creates a huge risk for journalists who are specialised on this subject. Because the list essentially criminalises collecting any information about the activity of Roscosmos and soldiers,” he said.