October 22, 2021

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Moscow to expel BBC correspondent, citing British ‘discrimination’ of Russian reporters

Moscow expels BBC correspondent, citing British “discrimination” of Russian reporters

A British reporter has reportedly been declared non grata by Russian authorities – a move that appeared to send a sharp message about the Kremlin’s intentions for freedom of speech and other journalists working in the country.

Sarah Rainsford, the BBC’s Moscow correspondent since 2014, was said to have been told her accreditation would not be renewed when it expires on 31 August.

A state television channel said the move was a “symbolic deportation” in retaliation for British “discrimination” of Russian reporters.

The same report suggested the UK had provoked the expulsion by not renewing visas to Russians, threatening to remove a broadcasting licence from Kremlin mouthpiece RT, and funding investigative outlets Bellingcat and OCCRP.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow did not respond to a request for comment. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also declined to officially confirm the expulsion.

This comes in a week where tensions are already running high, after a British man was arrested in Berlin on suspicion of spying for Russia as a British Embassy employee “for a number of months”.

Ahead of parliamentary elections in September, the Kremlin has ratcheted up pressure on  the media. It has arrested and jailed dozens of journalists, and branded critical domestic media outlets as “foreign agents” and “undesirable organisations”. Many have folded as a result.

Foreign journalists have in the most part escaped the worst of the clampdown. Expulsions themselves have been mercifully rare, with the headline exceptions of British reporter Luke Harding in 2011 and American David Satter in 2013.

But as relations between Russia and the UK spiralled downwards post Crimea, Moscow began to drop heavy hints it considered the BBC a justified target, an extension of the UK government – and the supposed mirror of its own, much-maligned RT.

Ms Rainsford, an experienced foreign correspondent, appears to have become an unlucky first victim of that logic.

Having been previously posted in Istanbul, Madrid and Havana, Ms Rainsford is widely considered to be a thoughtful, fair and expert hand, with deep knowledge of the former Soviet Union.

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