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Guardian reporter expelled from Russia in cold war echo

Luke Harding, Moscow correspondent of Britain's Guardian newspaper, was told that 'Russia is closed to you.' Even in Soviet times, expulsions of international journalists was rare and usually connected with a diplomatic crisis.

By Correspondent / February 8, 2011



Moscow

Luke Harding, the accredited Moscow correspondent of the British Guardian newspaper, has been expelled from Russia in what appears to be the first incident of its kind since the end of the cold war.

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Mr. Harding, who has reported on the full range of Russia issues since arriving in Moscow in 2007, was detained at Domodedovo airport last Saturday as he attempted to reenter the country after spending two months in London working on the paper's WikiLeaks coverage.

According to Harding's Twitter feed, he was kept in a cell for 45 minutes with a group of other detainees, then placed aboard a flight to London and told "Russia is closed to you."

"Stopped at [passport] control, put in a locked cell and deported. No explanation given," Harding tweeted. "Extremely sad to leave Russia under these circumstances."

Rare even in Soviet times

According to the Guardian, two non-accredited British journalists have recently been blocked from entering Russia. One of them, Thomas de Waal, worked for many years in Moscow and is widely recognized expert on the North Caucasus but was refused entry in 2006. The last time an accredited British reporter was kicked out of the country, according to the Guardian, was when the Moscow correspondent for the Sunday Times was expelled in 1989. Nicholas Daniloff, US News & World Report correspondent arrested by the KGB in 1986, was held for two weeks before being forced out.

But even in Soviet times, this practice of kicking out journalists working on the staff of major international newspapers was quite rare and usually connected with some sort of diplomatic crisis. In some of those cases, it could be clearly seen that the journalist was being used as a pawn in a larger game.

It's not at all clear what's going on in Harding's case.

An unnamed source in Russia's security establishment told the official RIA-Novosti agency that Harding was blacklisted at the request of a particular security agency, which suggests he incurred the wrath of either the Federal Security Service (FSB), which deals with domestic matters, or the SVR external intelligence agency.

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