SAN FRANCISCO (Sputnik) – The decision by the US Congressional Press Galleries to withdraw credentials from the Russian broadcaster RT represents a direct violation of the main principle of freedom of speech, Russian Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov told reporters in San Francisco.
"Most importantly, the thing that the Americans are so proud of today is freedom of the press," Antonov said. "This is a direct violation of the main principle of the freedom of press in the United States."
The Withdrawal of RT's credentials by the US Congressional Press Galleries is another unfriendly move by the US which further undermines bilateral relations, Antonov added.
"I would like to remind that we have been told a lot in the recent days that RT's registration as foreign agent under FARA will not lead to any negative consequences, first of all with regards to its operations, obtaining information, and it's professional work in the United States," Antonov said. "Today's decision is an obvious fact, showing how things diverge from words… And we were told at a very high level, at the level of the State Department official."
The US Congressional Press Galleries voted to immediately strip RT of its credentials after it registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Congressional Radio and Television Correspondents' Galleries Executive Committee Chair Craig Caplan said in a letter on Wednesday. The letter said that the press gallery rules do not allow applicants who are employed "by any foreign government or representative thereof" to receive credentials.
Russian media outlets, such as RT and Sputnik have faced significant pressure in the United States over the past few months, with US lawmakers and the nation's intelligence community claiming that they may have been involved in Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the US 2016 presidential election. RT and Sputnik, as well as Russian authorities, have repeatedly refuted the allegations and insisted that they were unsubstantiated.
On November 13, RT America registered as a foreign agent in the United States under FARA at the request of the US Justice Department.
Speaking about seized Russian diplomatic propertyin the United States, Anatoly Antonov said that Moscow will continue to look for ways to return it.
"Before going to California, I considered it necessary to contact the State Department for permission to visit Russian property in San Francisco — the building of the illegally seized Consulate General and the residence of the Consul General. I think we have the full right to visit our property, even just to check what is happening there," Antonov told reporters. "Our people left in a hurry. I wanted to know if everything was ok there. However, I was denied, without any explanation."
On August 31, the US State Department demanded that Moscow close the Russian consulate in San Francisco, as well as consular facilities in Washington and New York. After that, the Russian diplomatic missions in San Francisco and Washington were searched.