Sarah Rainsford: My last despatch before Russian expulsion

I’m writing this in the middle of the night at my kitchen table in Moscow, looking over towards the dim red stars and golden domes of the Kremlin. But by the time you read it I’ll be on my way back to England, expelled from Russia as a national security threat.

After more than 20 years reporting from Moscow, I still can’t believe it.

I suspected I was being singled out around a year ago when the Russian foreign ministry started issuing me short-term visas. Even those would be approved at the last minute.

At one point I was told I’d been given my last-ever visa, before the official claimed she’d been mistaken.

But on 10 August I was taken aside at passport control at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and told I’d been barred from Russia by the FSB security service.

The officer reading out the order had all the words, but no explanation.

“Sarah Elizabeth,” – he kept using my middle name – “You are being refused entry to the Russian Federation – indefinitely. This is for the protection of the security of Russia,” he clarified and then said I was being deported.

I told him I was a journalist: “Do I look like a threat?”

“We’re just the implementers,” the border guard repeated multiple times. “Ask the FSB.”
I’d flown into Moscow that morning from Belarus where I’d been reporting on the suppression of mass protests against Alexander Lukashenko.

Vladimir Putin’s close ally was hosting his annual giant “conversation” with the press and I’d used the chance to question how he could possibly stay on as president after the torture and imprisonment of peaceful protesters.

I’d flown into Moscow that morning from Belarus where I’d been reporting on the suppression of mass protests against Alexander Lukashenko.

Vladimir Putin’s close ally was hosting his annual giant “conversation” with the press and I’d used the chance to question how he could possibly stay on as president after the torture and imprisonment of peaceful protesters.

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