With the Sochi Olympics just around the corner, one might think that Russia would prefer to put on its best and most welcoming face for the world press. Instead, it kicked out David Satter, who most recently had worked with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty, on the pretext of a visa violation. Satter thinks there is more to this than meets the eye:
Russia has expelled an American journalist and author critical of President Vladimir Putin in one of the first such cases since the Cold War.
David Satter, a former Moscow correspondent for the Financial Times and author of three books on Russia and the former Soviet Union, had been working as an adviser to the U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty since September.
“As some of you may know, I’ve been expelled from Russia,” he wrote on his Twitter page Monday.
Satter told CNN he had gone to the Ukrainian capital Kiev to exchange his existing visa for a correspondent’s visa when he was told his application had been rejected, on the grounds that his presence in Russia was “undesirable.” He is now in London “until we figure out what to do next.”
Russia claims that he waited five days to convert his entry visa to the appropriate multi-entry status, which rendered him as an “undesirable.” That status was apparently decided by the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB:
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 “gross” violation took place between November 21 and 26, Satter’s initial entry date and the date in which he applied for the conversion to the new visa. Russia insists that Satter was an illegal alien for five days. Russia also claims that they took action on November 29th and ordered him expelled, and that his violation is so egregious that he can’t return for five years. However, Satter didn’t leave until December 5th, and apparently thought nothing was wrong until he tried to re-enter on Christmas Day.
The FSB’s involvement is a little curious, too. The Foreign Ministry should have been able to deal with this issue on its own if all that was involved was a visa violation. This smells political, and the timing of it is very curious. It looks a little like Moscow didn’t like Satter’s coverage of the Kiev protests over Ukraine’s decision to pull closer to Russia economically, and decided to exact some revenge. That’s certainly Satter’s take.
That throws down a bit of a gauntlet to the rest of the press corps covering Sochi. Do they ignore the incident, even though this may well be a prelude to a wider effort to expel Western journalists? Or do they speak up and force Russia’s hand as the Olympics approach? CNN and AFP at least are reporting on it. We’ll see if the rest of the media follows suit.