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British Council Operations (Russia)

Volume 470: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2008

I made clear in my Written Ministerial Statement on 12 December, and again in oral questions on 8 January, that the Russian Government’s threatened action against the British Council in Russia was illegal, and that the British Council intended to remain open and operational in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. The British Council has done so.

I regret to inform the House that, on 14 January, the Russian authorities informed the British Ambassador in Moscow that Russia intends to take a series of administrative measures against the British Council. These include tax measures against the British Council in St. Petersburg and visa restrictions against British Council staff in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. Russia has further stated that it may take further action against the British Council in Moscow, including visa restrictions against UK diplomatic staff. Such threats can only make matters worse. It is not in the interests of either the UK or Russia for flourishing cultural, educational and scientific links to be held hostage to unrelated issues in this way.

As the Government have repeatedly made clear to the Russian authorities, the British Council’s activities in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and across Russia are fully compliant both with Russian and international law, under the Vienna conventions. Its presence and activities are also specifically sanctioned by a 1994 UK-Russia Agreement on Co-operation in Education, Science and Culture, signed by Russia.

The Government will consider these latest actions by Russia carefully and will continue to engage with our international partners on them. We will respond to the Russian Government shortly.

I will continue to keep the House informed of developments.