The BBC’s Moscow correspondent said she was told by Russian authorities that she “could never return to Russia” after her visa was not renewed and she was effectively expelled from the country.
Sarah Rainford has been told she will have to leave the country when her current visa expires this month, at a time of rising tensions between Russia and the West and a crackdown on independent media.
Ms Rainford told BBC Radio 4: “This is not a failure to renew my visa, although technically that is what it is. I am expelled and have been told I cannot return at all.”
The journalist described the decision as “personally devastating” and “shocking”.
“It’s not just an old place,” she said.
“It’s about a third of my life that I’ve lived in Russia…I really loved trying to tell the story of Russia to the world, but it’s increasingly difficult to tell a story.”
The BBC yesterday accused Russia of committing a “direct attack on media freedom” and said Ms Rainford was an “exceptional and fearless journalist”.
Being expelled from Russia, the country in which I’ve lived for nearly a third of my life – and reported for years – is devastating. Thank you for all the nice messages of support.
– Sarah Rainsford (@sarahrainsford) August 13, 2021
The Russians officially linked the decision to the difficulties Russian journalists faced in obtaining or extending UK visas.
Ms Rainford said she was also told it was linked to the UK’s sanctions against Russian nationals for corruption and human rights abuses in Chechnya.
However, she said she believes this is another sign of the way the country is increasingly turning against itself.
“There were clear indications from the Russian media, there have already been serious problems in recent days and weeks for independent Russian journalists,” she said.
“But so far, for the foreign press, we’ve been kind of left out, somehow shielded from all of that, but I think that’s a clear sign that things have changed.
“It’s another really bad sign about the situation in Russia, another aberration in the relationship between Russia and the world, and a sign that Russia is getting increasingly close to itself.”
She said it seemed that the Russians preferred not to allow foreign journalists, like her, to speak the language and communicate directly with the people in the country.
“It’s much easier to have fewer people here who understand and can talk directly to people and hear people’s stories directly and connect them,” she said.
“It is much easier to have people who probably don’t speak the language and who don’t know the country deeply.
“I think it’s an indication of a really difficult, increasingly oppressive environment.”
Russia said Ms Rainford’s expulsion was “retaliation” for the British government’s refusal to grant accreditation to an unnamed Russian reporter.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the “saga goes back” to the summer of 2019, when a Russian reporter had to leave the UK for visa reasons “without explanation”.
Ms. Zakharova added: “I will say this again: the Russian move is just revenge. It has nothing to do with freedom of expression.”
In a statement on Facebook, Zakharova accused the UK of “turning the issue upside down” and the BBC for promoting propaganda.
Zakharova said Ms Rainford would be granted a visa after the Russian reporter was allowed to return to the UK. She did not mention the name of the Russian journalist or the media organization behind the journalist.
Two days before the expulsion was announced, Rainford asked Putin’s ally Alexander Lukashenko – the leader of Belarus – about a violent crackdown on protesters in Minsk.
Then Lukashenko accused her of being supported by the United States in an unprecedented speech against the BBC.
Additional Reports PA
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