I refer the hon. Member to the written ministerial statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on 13 December 2007, Official Report, column 56WS, about Russia’s threat to close the British Council’s regional offices in Russia on 1 January 2008. The Government are urging the Russian authorities to reconsider their decision, which would be detrimental to the development of cultural links; severely affect the Russian population who benefit from the British Council’s presence; and damage the Russian Government’s reputation.
This is not just a bilateral issue. It strikes at the heart of the EU-Russia relationship, given the prominence of culture, education and science in the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. As such, the Government have successfully engaged European partners to show support for the British Council. The president of the EU National Institutes for Culture wrote to the Minister of Culture for the Russian Federation on 12 December 2007, condemning Russia’s threats and voicing strong concern for all national institutes for culture from EU countries working in Russia. On behalf of EU member states, he described the threat as a continuation of a series of obstacles which some of these institutes have to face and urged Russia to reconsider its decision.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has committed to keeping the House fully informed of developments.