The former Brighton journalist whose expulsion from Russia caused a diplomatic incident has been allowed to return to Moscow – for the time being.
Luke Harding, 43, the Moscow correspondent for The Guardian newspaper, was detained then deported shortly after returning from a two-month stint in England despite having a valid visa.
Mr Harding, who worked for The Argus from 1991 to 1993 and lived in Montpelier Road, Brighton, had been covering the WikiLeaks publication of American diplomatic cables while in England.
He reported claims that Russia under Vladimir Putin had become a “virtual mafia state”.
Now, just over a week after his expulsion, Mr Harding has been allowed to return to Russia although his press card expires on Tuesday 31 May.
It is unclear whether the Russian authorities will be allow Mr Harding to stay beyond the expiry date.
He is reported to have been given back his press card on arrival at the airport with the words: “You forgot this.”
His return came just two days before a visit to Britain by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
There had been calls for the visit to be cancelled in retaliation for Mr Harding’s expulsion.
Mr Harding has asked fellow journalists to question Mr Lavrov and Foreign Secretary William Hague at their joint press conference about what is regarded as an attempt to silence critical reporting.
A spokesman for Guardian News & Media said that Mr Harding had returned to Moscow after the Russian authorities reversed their earlier decision to refuse him entry on Saturday 5 February.
His press card was returned to him at Moscow airport on Saturday 12 February.
The spokesman said: “Luke was first informed that his accreditation would be withdrawn in November last year and he was told to leave the country by the end of December.
“After protests from the British government, the Russian foreign ministry extended his permission to stay until the end of May 2011.
“It is still not clear whether Luke is being allowed in indefinitely or is still being expelled in 15 weeks’ time.
“The Guardian is seeking urgent clarification on this.”
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