Russia said on Tuesday it had expelled veteran US reporter and scholar David Satter because he had “grossly violated” visa entry rules in a case that threatens to further chill ties between the former Cold War foes.
The former Financial Times and Wall Street Journal correspondent who has published three books on Russia and the former Soviet Union said he was barred from Moscow without an explanation late last year.
The US embassy has already filed a protest over the decision, which is likely to draw more criticism of President Vladimir Putin’s rights record ahead of next month’s Sochi Winter Olympic Games.
Satter told AFP he had travelled on December 5 to the Ukrainian capital Kiev to report on the mass pro-EU protests gripping the former Soviet state.
The 66-year-old said he was then told on December 25 that his application for a new visa to Russia had been rejected on the grounds that his presence was “undesirable.”
“The competent organs have determined that your presence, on the territory of the Russian Federation, is undesirable,” Satter cited the official Russian decision as saying on his Twitter account.
“Competent organs” is a phrase used by Russian authorities to refer to the feared Federal Security Service (ex-KGB) that Putin headed shortly before he first became president in 2000.
But the Russian foreign ministry said Satter was well aware that he had violated migration rules.
“He was denied a multi-entry visa on the grounds that he grossly violated Russian migration law,” the ministry said in a statement.
The current law prevents Satter from applying for a new visa for another five years.
The ministry said Satter entered Russia on November 21 and was then required to “immediately” report to the Federal Migration Service (UFMS) in order to receive his multi-entry correspondent’s visa.
“Despite this, D. A. Satter only appeared at the UFMS on November 26, 2013, when he was denied the multi-entry visa on the grounds of a gross violation of Russian migration law,” the foreign ministry said.
It added that a Moscow district court on November 29 found him guilty of an administrative violation and ordered him expelled from the country.
“He admitted his guilt,” the Russian statement said.
Satter — who serves as a fellow of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies as well as the Hudson Institute in the United States — had been living and working in Russia since September 2013 as an adviser for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“We want nothing more than Mr. Satter forthwith be able to return to Moscow,” the US government-funded broadcaster’s chief executive Kevin Klose said in a statement.
Russia’s extremely strict and complex visa issuance and registration rules make minor migration rule violations common among foreigners living in Moscow.
Most are allowed to stay in Russia after being levied a minor fine and it was not clear why Satter was issued a formal expulsion — one of only two known cases among US reporters since the Soviet Union’s collapse.
The Tagansky District Court in Moscow that issued the expulsion order muddied the picture further by offering a different explanation to the one issued by the Russian foreign ministry.
“David Arnold Satter was expelled from the country by a November 29 court ruling on the grounds that his visa had expired,” court spokeswoman Ksenya Lapina told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
Satter had earlier told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that he suspected his expulsion might have been linked to his writing on Moscow’s 1999 apartment bombings that sparked the second post-Soviet war in Chechnya.
Putin blamed that deadly attack on Chechen guerrillas but never provided firm evidence for his case.
But Alexander Litvinenko — an FSB officer turned Kremlin critic who was poisoned after having tea with two Russian agents in London in 2006 — suggested that the bombs were planted by FSB agents who wanted to spark a brief war in Chechnya that could help Putin win the 2000 election.