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British Council Shut Down, FSB Blamed

Published: January 18, 2008 (Issue # 1340)



  • A woman attempts to visit the British Council offices in St. Petersburg on Wednesday afternoon. The British Council fully shut down its operations on Thursday.
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

  • Stephen Kinnock
    Photo: Alexander Belenky / The St. Petersburg Times

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.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Jan. 28



Feel like becoming a publishing mogul? Stop by the Freedom anti-cafe at 7 Ulitsa Kazanskaya today at 8 p.m. where Simferopol, Crimea-based founder and chief editor of the Holst online magazine will talk about creating an internet magaine, including what stories to cover, how find an audience and build a team, where to find inspiration and how to stand out from the crowd. Admission is the normal price of the anti-café — 2 rubles per minute, which includes tea and snacks.



Learn everything you always wanted to know about wine, and perhaps a bit more, at the Le Nez du Vin seminar for wine lovers. Held at the WineJet Sommelier School, 100 Bolshoy Prospekt Petrograd Side, at 7:30 p.m., the event will cover wine production, the basics of wine tasting, the concept of terroir and the various countries where wine is produced. Tickets are 750 rubles and include a wine tasting. Register by calling +7 921 744 6264.



Thursday, Jan. 29



Attend a master class on how to deal with complicated business negotiations today at the International Banking Institute, 6 Malaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. Running from 3 to 6 p.m., Vadim Sokolov, an assistant professor at the St. Petersburg State University of Economics, will introduce aspects of managing the negotiation process and increasing its effectiveness. Attendance is free with pre-registration by telephone on 909 3056 or online at www.ibispb.ru



Celebrate what would be writer Anton Chekhov's 155th birthday at the Bokvoed bookshop at 46 Nevsky Prospekt. Starting at 5 p.m., the legendary author will be feted with readings of his stories and short performances based on his plays by various St. Petersburg actors. Chekhov's books will also be offered at a 15% discount during the event.



Friday, Jan. 30



The Lermontov Central Library, 19 Liteyny Prospekt, will screen 'Almost Famous’ in English with Russian subtitles at 6:30 p.m. Cameron Crowe's Academy Award-winning comedy from 2000 stars Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit, and tells the story of a budding music journalist at Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. Admission is free.



Meet renowned Russian poet, journalist and writer Dmitry Bykov, famous for his biographies of Boris Pasternak, Bulat Okudzhava and Maxim Gorky, and winner of 2006 National Bestseller Award. Bykov will read old and new poems as well as answer questions about his works at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Main Hall, at 7 p.m. Tickets start at 1,000 rubles and are available at city ticket offices and the from the Philharmonic website www.philharmonia.spb.ru.



A retrospective of the films of Roman Polanski starts today at Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt, with a screening of ‘Repulsion’ at 7 p.m. and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ at 9:15 p.m. The series runs through Feb. 4 and will include Polanski's eminently creepy ‘The Tenant,’ the cult comedy ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ and ‘Cul-de-sac’ among others. Tickets are 150-200 rubles and the complete schedule is available at www.vk.com/artpokaz/



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