The Beeb reports on Russia's latest paranoid effort to fan the flames of cold war:
The Russian government has ordered the British Council to close down its offices outside Moscow by the beginning of January. The Russian foreign ministry said the council, which promotes British culture abroad, was operating illegally. The council has said its operations in Russia are within the law. A Russian official said the move was in retaliation for the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from the UK in July as part of a dispute. Foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin also said the council had violated tax regulations. But the council says it is fully compliant with all tax laws and operates on the basis of an agreement signed in the 1990s.
The Times of London continues:
The Russian government has ordered the British Council to close down virtually its entire operation in the country by the beginning of January, worsening the already poor relations between Russia and Britain. Moscow said that the council, which promotes British culture and offers English language lessons through its 15 regional offices in Russia, had no legal basis for its operations. The move is being seen as a retaliation for the expulsion of four Russian diplomats from Britain in July, in the continuing row over the murder on British soil of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. Britain suspects Andrei Lugovoy, a former KGB agent, of carrying out the killing, but Moscow has refused to extradite him to stand trial in London. A spokesman for the Russian foreign ministry claimed that a new bilateral agreement to regulate the council's activities, drawn up after the diplomatic expulsions from the UK in July, had not been signed. He also accused the council of violating tax laws.
All 15 regional offices of the British Council have been told to suspend their operations. Only the council's Moscow head office will be allowed to remain open. The British Council has said its operations in Russia are not illegal, and that it is fully compliant with tax laws. Tony Halpin, the Times's Moscow correspondent, said that the move appeared to be a diplomatic flexing of muscles by Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, who cemented his grip on power this week by settling the vexed issue of how he will maintain his grip on power after his second presidential term ends next March. Mr Putin recommended on Monday that Dmitri Medvedev, his 42-year-old protege, should be the next President, and Mr Medvedev then indicated that Mr Putin should be the next Prime Minister of Russia, keeping the immensely popular head of state at the heart of power in the Kremlin. "What is really behind this is another effort to squeeze British interests, in the row the began over Litvinenko," said Halpin. "It is election season now, and Mr Putin thinks he is completely invulnerable and do what he likes. "Relations between Britain and Russia are very, very strained, so squeezing out the British Council is a way of demonstrating how bad those relations have become. "Moscow has never been very happy with the fact that the British Council gives English lessons and runs exams - they see it as a contamination with unwelcome ideas. "The Kremlin has always been terrified of a repeat of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which it has seen as having been fomented by foreign NGOs using foreign money.
"The British Council is a very high profile organisation, one of the best-known organisations in the world, and if Moscow can wage war on the council then it sends a powerful message to all the other foreign NGOs."