Russia has refused to renew a visa for a BBC journalist in Moscow, state TV reported, in an effective expulsion amid simmering tensions with the UK.
Rossiya 24 said late on Thursday that Sarah Rainsford will have to leave Russia before the end of the month when her visa expires.
It said the Foreign Ministry’s decision not to extend her visa came in retaliation to British refusal to grant or extend visas to Russian journalists.
“The expulsion of Sarah Rainsford is a direct assault on media freedom which we condemn unreservedly,” BBC director-general Tim Davie said in a statement.
“Sarah is an exceptional and fearless journalist. She is a fluent Russian speaker who provides independent and in-depth reporting of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Her journalism informs the BBC’s audiences of hundreds of millions of people around the world.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the ministry had given detailed information to BBC representatives a few days ago. She would not identify Rainsford by name and challenged the BBC to comment.
Ms Zakharova said London had ignored “repeated Foreign Ministry warnings that it will take corresponding measures” in response to its treatment of Russian journalists. “We have made regular statements, urging the British to end persecution of Russian journalists,” she added.
Russia’s relations with the West have sunk to the lowest levels since the Cold War, following Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, accusations of Russian interference with elections, hacking attacks and other tensions.
Relations between Russia and Britain have remained particularly strained after the 2018 poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK, in an attack with a Soviet-designed nerve agent that British authorities said had almost certainly approved been “at a senior level of the Russian state” — an allegation Moscow denies.
In a June incident that further aggravated ties, Russia said one of its warships fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs in the path of the British destroyer HMS Defender to chase it away from an area near Crimea that Moscow claims as its territorial waters.
The UK, which like most other nations did not recognise Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, insisted the Royal Navy ship was not fired upon and said it was sailing in Ukrainian waters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin described the incident as a provocation, and Moscow warned that the military could fire to hit intruding warships if they do not heed warnings.