Russia has barred a U.S. journalist critical of President Vladimir Putin from the country for five years, in a move that could upset relations with the United States and has echoes of the Cold War.
Moscow’s treatment of David Satter could fuel concern about freedom of speech before the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month, although Putin has tried to appease critics by freeing former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and members of the Pussy Riot protest group in the run-up to the Games.
“I was expelled from the country,” Satter wrote on his personal website. “This is an ominous precedent for all journalists and for freedom of speech in Russia.”
The Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Satter, author of three books on Russia and the Soviet Union, had been prevented from returning to Russia last month after grossly violating visa regulations.
In a website entry, he dismissed the official version of events, saying he had followed all instructions, and he blamed the foreign ministry, which handles foreign journalists’ media accreditation, for causing delays that led to his expulsion.
Satter said that he had flown to Kiev to receive a new letter of invitation but instead received only a statement read to him by a Russian diplomat there declaring him persona non grata.
“The competent organs have decided that your presence on the territory of the Russian Federation is undesirable. Your application for entry into Russia is denied,” the statement said.
Such expulsions have been rare since the end of the Cold War and collapse of the communist Soviet Union in 1991. But the ministry dismissed suggestions by Western media that the move against Satter was politically motivated as “tendentious”.
A former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times, Satter was back in the Russian capital last year and advising Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a broadcaster funded by the U.S. government.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said the U.S. embassy in Moscow had sought an explanation from the Russian authorities, without success.