Friday, January 04, 2008

British Council Fights Back - II

From today's RFE/RL Newsline:
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow was quoted by the BBC on January 3 as saying that the British Council offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg will stay open despite a Russian order to close them. The spokesman said that the British Council's legal position in Russia is "rock-solid." The council plans to resume work on 14 January after the Russian New Year break. It's perplexing that the Russian government is pursuing this vendetta against the British Council, which does only good things for Russia and Russians." The dispute over the British Council is widely seen as part of the continuing row stemming from the 2006 London poisoning of former Russian security agent Aleksandr Litvinenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 17 and 21, 2007, and January 2 and 3, 2008). On January 3, Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying that "we have not raised the question of the British Council's office in Moscow thus far, and this is an act of goodwill." This was the first time that a Russian official made mention of the council's Moscow office in the course of the dispute. Kamynin also accused Britain of "politicizing" the issue. On January 4, the "International Herald Tribune" quoted an unnamed British Embassy official as calling Kamynin's remarks "hypocritical in the extreme." The daily also quoted Kathryn Board, who heads the council's overseas network, as saying that "if there is a law that we don't comply with, the Russian government has yet to point it out." She added that Britain is in contact with the Russian authorities to enable the offices to reopen without incident on January 14. "We still have a week or so to go and very much hope this will be seen through to a proper conclusion." PM
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