LONDON: British Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Russia’s actions as “reprehensible” and “not worthy of a great country” Thursday after the British Council suspended operations in two cities.
In a statement to lawmakers at the House of Commons in London, Miliband added that similar acts had been seen in the Cold War but Britain had thought such antics were in the past.
Miliband added that the Kremlin’s behaviour was a “stain on Russia’s reputation and standing” but added that he would not make retaliatory moves against Russian cultural bodies in Britain.
“Such actions are reprehensible, not worthy of a great country, and contrary to the letter and spirit of the legal framework under which the British Council operates,” he said.
“Russia has failed to show any legal reasons under Russian or international law why the British Council should not continue to operate.”
British Council suspends offices: The British Council cultural body announced just before Miliband spoke that it was suspending operations in Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, saying the Russian authorities had made it impossible for them to continue working.
It is the latest incident in a string of recent spats between Moscow and London.
Relations started deteriorating after the killing of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. Russia has refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the man British prosecutors want to charge in the case.
Miliband said the dispute over Litvinenko’s death and the activities of the British Council were “entirely separate issues” and warned against treating cultural links as a “political football”.
He accused Moscow of “blatant intimidation” of its own citizens after Russian employees of the British Council were questioned earlier this week.
Miliband said Russia had “failed to substantiate” claims that the British Council is avoiding paying tax and said it had complied with all requests from tax authorities.
“Therefore, instead of taking legal action against the council, the Russian government has resorted to the intimidation of council staff,” he added.
“I am confident the whole house will share the anger and dismay felt by this government at the actions of the Russian government.
“We saw similar actions during the Cold War, but frankly thought that they had been put behind us.”
“The longer-term cost is their country’s standing in the world as a responsible international player,” Miliband added.
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