Tue, Feb 15, 2011 - Page 6 News List

Expelled journalist returns to Moscow

NY Times News Service, MOSCOW

A week after a British journalist was expelled from Russia, the authorities allowed him to return on Saturday night — all but acknowledging that they had made a mistake that had harmed the country’s effort to improve its image abroad.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a new visa to the journalist, Luke Harding of the Guardian, to replace the one that border guards summarily annulled after he landed at the airport in Moscow on Feb. 5. Harding had arrived from London, was detained and put on the next plane back, without explanation.

On Sunday night, Harding wrote on his Twitter account: “Yes, I’m back in Moscow.”

The Foreign Ministry did not offer any immediate comment.

The expulsion of Western correspondents based in Moscow was not unusual in the Soviet era, but has been relatively rare since the collapse of communism. Harding’s editors suggested that he was being punished for reporting on terrorism, corruption and other provocative issues.

Harding was also one of the reporters for the Guardian who wrote about the WikiLeaks cache of US diplomatic cables, including some that had harsh assessments of the Russian government under Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former president.

The Foreign Ministry at first would not say why it had taken action against Harding, then said he had broken rules for journalists. It provided one example that did not seem especially plausible — it said that Harding was deported because he had forgotten to pick up a press credential card the last time that he was in Moscow.

Other Russian officials speculated that the ministry had been blindsided by the FSB, the main domestic successor to the Soviet-era KGB, which controls border security and might have put Harding on a blacklist without notifying the ministry.

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