Russia holding British Council ‘hostage,’ says UK


London : Foreign Secretary David Miliband has responded to the latest action taken by Russia against the British Council by accusing Moscow of holding the cultural arm of the Foreign Office “hostage to unrelated issues.”

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“Russia has further stated that it may take further action against the British Council in Moscow, including visa restrictions against UK diplomatic staff,” Miliband said.

“Such threats can only make matters worse. It is not in the interests of either the UK or Russia for flourishing cultural, educational and scientific links to be held hostage to unrelated issues in this way,” he said in a written statement to MPs Tuesday.

On Monday, Russian authorities informed the British Ambassador in Moscow that they intended to take a series of administrative measures against the British Council, following the UK refusing to close down its offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

Miliband said his government “will consider these latest actions by Russia carefully and will continue to engage with our international partners on them.” A British response, he said, will be issued shortly.

The threat to close British Council offices follows a diplomatic dispute between the two countries over the UK demanding the extradition of former KGB agent Andrei Lugovoi to face murder charges that led to a spate of diplomatic expulsions last summer.

Last week, Miliband insisted the UK would defy the demand and urged Moscow not to use the cultural arm of the British Foreign Office as a “political football.”

In his latest statement, he insisted that the British Council’s activities in St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and across Russia are fully compliant both with Russian and international law, under the Vienna Conventions.