British Council to reopen in Russia
Yury Fedotov   /  Photo: www.img.dailymail.co.uk

British Council to reopen in Russia

28 Jul, 05:02 PM

The British Council will return to Russia, after a lengthy, politically-motivated closure, NEWSru.com writes. “As a goodwill gesture, the Russian side is allowing the activity of the British Council in Moscow, it’s open now,” Russian Ambassador to Great Britain Yury Fedotov stated.

“We hold that there is not a sufficient legal basis for the activity of the British Council and an agreement on cultural centers should be signed, and there isn’t one yet,” Fedotov nonetheless added, echoing the language used to justify the closure of the Council’s offices at the beginning of last year. That move came as Russian-British relations were at a post-Cold War low, after the poisoning death of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London and Russia’s refusal to extradite murder suspect Andrey Lugovoi to Great Britain.

Initially, only the British Council offices in Yekaterinberg and St. Petersburg were closed down. The British provoked Russian wrath by ignoring that order and opening the offices as usual after the order went into effect on January 1, 2008. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, referring to the dispute over the Council offices, accused Britain of “nostalgia for colonial times.”

The British protest action lasted only a few weeks, however. They were closed after the FSB began calling in the Council’s Russian employees for questioning.

The British Council is a government-financed NGO that operates in 110 countries. It first opened in Russia in 1992. Providing English lessons is one of the main functions of the Council centers.

British Council offices have also been closed down in Iran and Burma.

In February 2008, Dmitry Medvedev, who was prime minister and running for president at the time, accused the British Council of harboring British spies. In June, the Council was slapped with a tax bill of 130 million rubles (about $4.25 million) for 2004-2006, pointing to the paid English lessons given at the center. The Council was threatened with the confiscation of its property should it fail to pay up.

The British characterized the tax charges as “punitive and disproportionate” and appealed it in court. They also took reciprocal measures, expelling Russian diplomats and making the visa process more complex for Russians coming to Britain.

After lengthy maneuvering, in May of this year, a Russian federal arbitration court in Moscow left a tax bill of 130 million rubles (about $4.25 million) in force, from the original demand of more than 200 million rubles (about $6.5 million).

Ambassador Fedotov noted that Britain had no plans yet for simplifying its visa procedure for Russians.


Tags: British Council, Alexander Litvinenko



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