The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, has been refused re-entry to Russia in an apparent response to the reporting of Wikileaks cables unfavourable to Vladimir Putin.
Harding, who had been working at the Guardian offices in London for the last two months, flew back to Moscow at the weekend but was refused entry by Russian authorities.
He was detained at the city’s airport for 45 minutes before being placed on a return flight to the UK by border guards who reportedly told him: “For you Russia is closed.”
Harding’s visa was annulled and his passport only handed back to him once he was on a plane heading to London.
In a tweet, Harding suggested his work on the leaked cables and their damning assessment of Russia under the rule of former president Vladimir Putin might be behind his expulsion.
“The Russians have been unhappy with my reporting for a while. But it seems Wikileaks may have been the final straw.”
In another post he wrote: “Extremely sad to leave Russia under these circumstances. My visa valid until end of May.”
As part of a series of Wikileaks articles, Harding had reported on allegations contained in US diplomatic cables that suggested that Russia had become a “virtual mafia state” under former president, now prime minister Putin.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has phoned Moscow in a bid to shed light on the removal of Harding. The Foreign Office said it was still “awaiting a reply”.
The expulsion is thought to be the first such removal of a British journalist since 1989, when Angus Roxburgh, then of The Sunday Times, was kicked out as part of tit-for-tat expulsions in which 11 Russian spies were told to leave London.
A spokeswoman from the Foreign Office said: “We have been in contact with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including through a call from the Foreign Secretary, to seek clarity on this decision. We are awaiting a reply.”
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said: “This is clearly a very troubling development with serious implications for press freedom, and it is worrying that the Russian government should now kick out reporters of whom they disapprove.
‘Russia’s treatment of journalists – both domestic and foreign – is a cause of great concern. We are attempting to establish further details, and are in contact with the Foreign Office.”
Harding has spent more than a decade covering foreign affairs for the Guardian – with postings in New Delhi, Berlin and Russia – and has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflict zones.
He had been back in The Guardian’s London offices putting the finishing touches to a book about Wikileaks he co-authored with investigations editor, David Leigh.