British Council pledges to defy Russian ban

The British Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton says the British Council's regional offices will not close, despite a ban from the Russian government.

On Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused the organisation of operating outside Moscow illegally. It requested the closure of all its regional offices by the New Year.

The UK denies the allegation and says it has complied with both Russian and British law.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Britain must blame its own actions for what's happening.

“I know that Milliband called the move illegal. But I am not surprised by London's attitude to Russia's legislation since the British leadership have once called on us to change our constitution. He says the activities of the British Council in Russia are in strict accordance with international law but I also know how London treats it – from Britain's stance on the Kosovo issue. Our British colleagues try to manipulate international law, which they break together with Russian law.

Britain opened a dozen British Council offices in Russia with no agreement with us. The offices were involved in commerce, did not pay taxes, some of them were in fact parts of the British Embassy or consulates,” he said.

Relations between the UK and Russia have worsened since the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former FSB agent, in London, in November 2006.

In July, Britain expelled four Russian diplomats over Moscow's refusal to extradite a key suspect in the case. Russia followed suit shortly after.