British Council Shut Down, FSB Blamed
Published: January 18, 2008 (Issue # 1340)
The British Council suspended its activities in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, and expressed the hope that its Moscow office would be able to continue the work.
Stephen Kinnock, head of the British Council office in St. Petersburg, told The St. Petersburg Times on Thursday that there was “very little chance” the St. Petersburg office would reopen in the foreseeable future.
In a statement issued from London earlier Thursday, British Council Chief Executive Martin Davidson said that “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.”
Kinnock added, “We had no choice because of all the pressure we had.”
Davidson said the Council was concerned about the “wellbeing of our staff. “
“I feel we cannot continue our work without significant risk to them,” Davidson said, referring to a campaign of intimidation against the Council’s staff he said had been initiated by the Russian government at the beginning of this week.
“On Tuesday Jan. 15, 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 for further interviews [on Wednesday],” Davidson said on Thursday.
He said the interviews “had little to do with their work and were clearly aimed at exerting undue pressure on innocent individuals.”
Davidson said it was “wrong” to draw cultural relations and the British Council into an international political dispute.
“I’m 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,” he said.
Davidson said that he reiterated that the British Council operates in Russia in full accordance with international and Russian law, adding that the British Council “remains committed to Russia and hopes to continue to work with our one-and-a-quarter million Russian partners and customers from our Moscow office.”
Meanwhile, Britain’s foreign minister David Miliband criticized the actions of Russia.
“Such actions deserve reproach and are not worthy of a great country,” Miliband said in a statement to the British parliament on Thursday, Interfax said.Pages:  [2 ]