British Council to cease operations in Russia
The British Council has been ordered to cease operations in Russia, following a diplomatic row over a nerve agent attack in the UK which left a former Russian spy and his daughter critically ill. The British Consulate in St. Petersburg will also be forced to close, with 23 British diplomats given one week to leave the country.
The announcement comes as part of a series of moves announced by Russia’s foreign ministry in response to the UK’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats.
“We remain committed to the development of long-term people-to-people links with Russia as we do in over 100 other countries”
According to reports, Russian news agencies have cited politicians in Russia’s upper house of parliament as welcoming the move to close the British Council, alleging it had been used as a cover by British spies.
Russia’s minister of Education and Science Olga Vasilyeva told TASS that all joint educational programs with the British Council would be suspended in Russia pending a decision on the status of the organisation on the country’s territory.
“The decision does not affect other [joint] programs with Britain in the area of education and science, including student exchange programs,” she explained.
In a statement, The British Council said it was “profoundly disappointed” at the development.
“It is our view that when political or diplomatic relations become difficult, cultural relations and educational opportunities are vital to maintain on-going dialogue between people and institutions,” the statement read.
“We remain committed to the development of long-term people-to-people links with Russia as we do in over 100 other countries.”
This is not the first time the British Council, which promotes greater understanding of the UK and the English language, has been caught up in retaliation measures.
In 2008, the British Council’s regional offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg were closed, leaving only the head office in Moscow open.
Speaking to BBC Radio, British Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who held a senior position when he worked for the British Council in Russia twelve years ago, said the move shows how “mean-spirited and vindictive the Putin regime really is”.
“They feel they are surrounded by enemies on all sides and see the danger of the successor generation of young Russians coming through who detest the isolation of the Putin regime and want to work internationally, learn English and be citizens of the world,” Kinnock added.
“In their narrow and paranoid worldview, they are holding on desperately to the power they have.”
Since the announcement, Putin has secured a fourth term as Russian president with more than 76% of the vote, keeping him in power for six more years.