Thursday, January 17, 2008

British Council Statement

Statement by Martin Davidson, British Council chief executive:
At the start of this week the Russian Government initiated a campaign of intimidation against our staff in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

On Tuesday 15 January, the Russian State Security Services (FSB) summoned over 20 Russian staff to attend individual interviews.

Late that night 10 members of staff were visited at home by the Russian tax police and called to further interviews yesterday.

The interviews had little to do with their work and were clearly aimed at exerting undue pressure on innocent individuals.

Our paramount consideration is the wellbeing of our staff and I feel we cannot continue our work without significant risk to them.

The Russian authorities have made it impossible for us to operate in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg so I have taken the decision to suspend operations in both cities.

I want to reiterate that the British Council is a cultural relations organisation. Our work connects ordinary people around the world.

It is wrong to draw cultural relations and the British Council into an international political dispute.

I am bitterly disappointed that the Russian authorities have sought to limit our cultural and educational links at the very time when they can be of most value.

I want to reiterate that we operate in Russia in full accordance with international and Russian law and I am deeply grateful for the strong support of our fellow cultural organisations across Europe.

We remain committed to Russia and hope to continue to work with our one-and-a-quarter million Russian partners and customers from our Moscow office.
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