The Russian Foreign Ministry has reversed its decision not to allow The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent back into the country, saying Luke Harding would now be granted a new visa.
The u-turn comes ahead of a visit to London by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and follows mounting international criticism of the decision to put Harding back on a plane to London at the weekend.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman told AFP last night: “If Mr Harding wants to continue to work in Russia – and we see no obstacle – he has to regularise his status in line with our accreditation rules for foreign journalists”.
The spokesman said Harding should request the new visa from London that the authorities would be willing to grant.
A Guardian News & Media spokesperson said: “We welcome the offer from the Russian Foreign Ministry to give our Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, a new visa so he may continue to work in Russia.
“Luke and the Guardian are now considering the offer very carefully.”
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 in what was first thought to be response to the reporting of Wikileaks cables unfavourable to Vladimir Putin.
The reporter, whose wife and children are still in the Russia, had been back in the UK working on potentially embarrassing documents obtained by the whistleblowing website.
Harding 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.
On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Harding had “committed a whole series of breaches of the rules governing the work of foreign correspondents” adding that he would be allowed to return to Russian until his current visa ran out later this year.
Lavrov later claimed Harding had been prevent from returning after illegally reporting from parts of the North Caucasus where Russian troops were conducting so-called counter-terrorist operations.
On Tuesday, The Guardian said it was “baffled” by the foreign ministry’s statement and claimed it was yet to receive an adequate explanation of why Harding had been deported despite having a valid visa.
“Failure to collect his press card before leaving urgently on a trip to London is manifestly not a plausible reason for detaining Luke at the airport and refusing him entry to Russia,’a GNM spokesman had said.