British Council banned from Russia

All offices belonging to the British Council, except for their headquarters in Moscow, will be prevented from operating in Russia from New Year's Day, according to Russia's Foreign Ministry.

Russia says that the organisation has no legal basis to function in Russia, and also that it is breaking financial and tax laws.

The British Council which promotes British culture abroad denies the allegations and says it will continue its operations.

Meanwhile, the British government called Russia's actions very serious and illegal.

In an interview with the BBC, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the closure of the British Council regional offices is a retaliation measure.

“The British government undertook some actions which inflicted systemic damage to our relations, so we have to retaliate. This is nothing to do with anti-British sentiments. It's the law of the genre if you wish,” he commented.

In July 2007, four Russian diplomats were expelled from Britain.

The move followed Moscow's refusal to extradite Andrey Lugovoy, Britain's main suspect in the murder of former security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko in 2006.

British reaction

British authorities called the move a serious and illegal measure.

The council first arrived in Russia in 1945. It was closed in 1947 and re-opened twenty years later.

The only two countries where it isn't allowed to operate are Myanmar and Iran.