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18 Jan, 2008 19:03

Britain escalates row with Russia

Russia has been accused of intimidation after the British Council reluctantly agreed to suspend operations in St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg.

Moscow insists the British Council violated a number of Russian and international laws.

“It has never applied for registration or any other licence for its activities from the Russian authorities. As soon as the British Council reconsiders that approach and starts following regulations that exist in Russia I do believe the problem will disappear immediately,” said Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the State Dume Foreign Affairs Committee.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the Russian actions “reprehensible and not worthy of a great country”.

He has accused Moscow of 'blatant intimidation' of the British Council’s staff.

“But we regard as entirely separate issues around Mr Litvinenko's murder and the activities of the British Council to build up links between British and Russian schools and universities, to support English language teaching in Russia  and Russian studies in the UK,” Miliband said.

“Nor do we believe that cultural activities should become a political football,” he added.

He said that London will not retaliate against Russia following the closure of British Council offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.
The dispute follows a series of diplomatic rows between Moscow and London following the murder of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in November 2006.

Although Britain denies any connection of the current dispute to the Litvinenko case, British Ambassador to Russia, Anthony Brenton, said that “if Mr Lugovoy faced a fare trial – which is what we want him to do – it would help immensely in improving relations”.

RT's political commentator Peter Lavelle says Russia views Britain’s rhetoric as worsening the situation.

“They are the ones who threw out diplomats, they are the ones who've cut back on joint work on fighting terrorism, they are the ones who've started cutting back on visas for certain officials,” he said.

The Russian side, he said, wants Britain to follow international and Russian law.

“Russia has a new law on non-governmental organisations and expects all of the entities from abroad and the local ones to follow those regulations,” Lavelle says.