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British Council Falls Victim to U.K.-Russia Row

January 17, 2008 03:47 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Moscow and Britain have been at odds since Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with a radioactive isotope in London. The U.K. government still seeks the extradition of suspect Andrei Lugovoi, now a member of the Russian parliament.

30-Second Summary

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Russian police arrested the British Council chief, Stephen Kinnock, in St Petersburg on Jan. 14 on what Britain says are trumped-up charges of driving under the influence.  

The arrest came after British Council offices defied a Russian order and continued to operate in 2008, running educational programs and teaching the English language.

Then, on Jan. 17, Chief Executive Martin Davidson announced that the council offices are closing. Davidson said, “Our paramount consideration is the well-being of our staff and I feel we cannot continue our work without significant risk to them.”

Council workers had complained that they were being followed and intimidated by FSB agents, the modern equivalent of the Soviet KGB.

The roots of these events can be traced back to the 2006 assassination of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. After Moscow refused to extradite former security officer and suspect Andrei Lugovoi, Britain expelled Russia’s diplomats in July 2007.

Regarding the treatment of the British Council, U.K. Foreign Secretary David Miliband said “Any intimidation or questioning of officials is completely unacceptable.”

A dissenting voice, however, spoke against the media’s encouragement of what he sees as Britain’s “pursuit of unclear and unachievable goals.”

Richard Sakwa, a professor at the University of Kent and a Russia expert, wrote in The Guardian that it is unconstitutional for Russia to extradite its citizens. He argued that Russia observes democratic conventions, at least formally, and its constitution should be respected.

Headline Links: British authorities lodge complaint with Moscow

Reactions: Russia and the British Council

Russia accuses Britain of “nostalgia for colonial times”
British Council says it is trapped in a political dispute

Background: A cultural institution in political crossfire

Offices reopen
Russia orders closure of British Council offices

Opinion & Analysis: British Council is hostage to politics

Recent history: The U.K.-Russian row

Russia expels Brits in tit-for-tat
Britain demands Lugovoi’s extradition

Key players:

Alexander Litvinenko
Andrei Lugovoi
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