Luke Harding Guardian Moscow correspondent Luke Harding, who will now be allowed to return to the city
Russia's foreign ministry has reversed its decision to deport the Guardian's Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding.

The decision to allow Harding back into the country and renew his visa comes after strong international criticism and ahead of a prearranged visit to London by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Harding was refused re-entry to the country at the weekend after returning from a two-month stint in London reporting on the WikiLeaks US embassy cables, despite his visa being valid until May 2011.

He was reportedly held in an airport cell for 45 minutes before being put back on a plane and told "For you, Russia is closed".

On Tuesday, the foreign ministry claimed that Harding had been denied entry because he failed to take a press card with him when he left the country. It also stated that he would be free to return and work in Moscow until his visa expired.

But last night Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that Harding would be free to return to the country "for the period determined by his tenure as a representative of the Guardian in Russia".

"If Mr. Harding wishes to continue working in Russia, we do not see any obstacles to that happening; all he needs to do is regularise his status in accordance with the provisions on accrediting foreign correspondents and apply for a visa at the Russian Embassy in London that will be ready to issue it.

"He will be able to continue his journalistic activities for the period determined by his tenure as a representative of the Guardian in Russia.

"This is a technical matter and I do not think that it deserves so much commotion, let alone the allegations that were addressed to us. We are sufficiently open and Mr. Harding knows that our interaction has been normal. There is only one universal requirement for all journalists – to follow our domestic laws, not to break them and to be in close contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"When visits are made to restricted regions of the country it is necessary to obtain a special permission. I think that this practice is entirely understandable and should be accepted without any comments."

Guardian News & Media said that it was "baffled" by claims that Harding's deportation was due to administrative errors, saying that the explanation was discredited by the fact that he had been first told of his expulsion in November 2010, but it had been delayed after the intervention of the British government.

In the course of his coverage of the WikiLeaks embassy cables, Harding accused Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin of running the country like a "virtual mafia state" and implied that he was likely to have known about the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko.

The Russian foreign ministry maintains that Harding has violated its internal legislation on a number of occasions.

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