By Ted Lipien
Published January 14, 2014 by Digital Journal
David Satter, an American journalist and advisor at U.S. taxpayer-funded Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), has posted a statement on his website rejecting official Russian explanations for the denial of his journalist’s visa to work in Russia.
Satter said that he had complied completely with all instructions from the Russian Foreign Ministry regarding registration and application for a new journalist’s visa.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that David Satter, who was denied a visa to return to Moscow, has “grossly violated” the country’s visa-entry rules. The Russian Foreign Ministry statement was reported on the Voice of Russia English language website and on RT (Russia Today) website.
The U.S. State Department said it is “disappointed” that U.S. journalist and RFE/RL adviser David Satter has been denied a visa by Russian authorities. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on January 14 that “hindering the free flow of information undermines… free debate and discussion.”
RFE/RL President Kevin Klose said on January 14 that “the company and Mr. Satter acted in good faith at all times to conform to all instructions conveyed from the Russian Foreign Ministry regarding Mr. Satter’s visa application.
“Media freedom activists believe that the Kremlin and its security services are behind the decision to deny Satter a journalist’s visa because of his hard-hitting news reporting from Russia and Ukraine.
David Satter said in his statement that “this is an ominous precedent for all journalists and for freedom of speech in Russia.”
The U.S. ambassador in Moscow, Michael McFaul, raised Satter’s visa issue with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Rybakov. The U.S. Embassy issued a diplomatic protest. From 1976 to 1982, Satter was the Moscow correspondent of the Financial Times of London. He was later a special correspondent on Soviet affairs of The Wall Street Journal.
In his book, Darkness at Dawn: the Rise of the Russian Criminal State (2003), Satter charged that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) was responsible for the bombings of Russian apartment buildings in 1999 that led to a second Chechen war and facilitated Vladimir Putin’s assent to power in Russia. Another of Satter’s books, Age of Delirium, was turned into a film about the fall of the Soviet Union as lived and experienced by the Soviet people.
Observers of Putin’s Russia speculate that that the visa denial for Satter may have been initiated by the FSB as a retaliation for his writing on the 1999 apartment bombings and his more recent reporting work for Radio Liberty, which is based in both Moscow and Prague, Czech Republic.
Like most media outlets not approved by the Kremlin, U.S. supported Radio Liberty, also known as Radio Svoboda, faces various restrictions on distribution of its broadcasts, but some of its other journalists are still able to work in Russia.
RFE/RL has a news bureau in Moscow believed to be kept under close surveillance by the FSB.
Media experts speculate that the Russian government tolerates RFE/RL’s restricted presence in Russia to allow its own state TV international broadcaster and Internet news provider RT (formerly known as Russia Today) to expand its television operations in the U.S.
The expulsion of David Satter from Russia may have been an attempt to intimidate Western journalists before the Winter Olympics in Sochi, but some U.S. experts believe that this effort may backfire and further hurt President Putin’s and Russia’s image in the West.
Satter told Voice of America’s (VOA) Russian service Tuesday in an interview via Skype from London that he thought the actions against him were politically motivated and evidence that “the Russian regime is losing its confidence.”
“I believe that to a certain extent they understand that the ground under their feet is not a secure as it once was, and they don’t want journalists in Moscow who are capable of understanding what’s happening in the country,” said Satter.
Read the Digital Journal op-ed in Internet Archive.