An editorial from the Times of London:
The polonium trail that started at the deathbed of Alexander Litvinenko and wound through West London's sushi bars now extends, metaphorically at least, to the British Council's two regional offices in Russia. The Kremlin wants them shut. It accuses the council of operating “outside its official status”. In reality, it is casting around for leverage in the escalating row over Scotland Yard's attempt to extradite the chief suspect in the Litvinenko murder. The council has reopened its Yekaterinburg office in defiance of a Kremlin edict and plans to do the same in St Petersburg on Thursday. Yesterday, summoned to the Foreign Ministry to explain himself, the British Ambassador in Moscow gave warning that any further Russian actions against the British Council would be considered breaches of international law. Forget the OK Corral. For a primer in the art of the 21st-century showdown, look no further than a modest, fifth-floor office suite a few blocks from the Hermitage.
It beggars belief that an Anglo-Russian relationship relaunched in a blaze of Blairite bonhomie eight years ago should have sunk to this. The British Council's connection to the Litvinenko affair is non-existent except insofar as its UK-appointed staff have diplomatic status. This, Moscow believes, gives grounds for reflexive attacks on the council's operations whenever any aspect of the bilateral relationship is causing irritation, without risking a full diplomatic rupture. It is true that closing libraries and cultural centres may be less dangerous than shutting embassies. It is also true that Russia's latest round of bullying is shot through with schoolyard spite, and entirely self-defeating.
In Russia, as elsewhere, the British Council exists to “connect people with learning opportunities and creative ideas from the UK”. This used to be called cultural diplomacy, but the phrase does little justice to a range of heavily oversubscribed services that include teacher training, educational exchanges, walk-in information centres and sponsorship of major arts events. Last year, half a million Russians were taught by British-Council-trained English teachers or visited a council centre or event, and another million accessed its web-based services. More than 40 young Russians travelled to Britain on pres-tigious university scholarships administered by the council, and 338,000 approached it for information about education in the UK.
It is not arrogance but common sense to observe that in an anglophone and increasingly borderless business world, Russians stand to gain hugely and to lose nothing at all from a British Council presence in their major cities. The current Kremlin leadership is wilfully blind to this. Conceivably, a nimbler response from London to the opportunities created by the Soviet collapse could have ensured that some of Vladimir Putin's aides, nearly a generation later, would be admirers of the council's work. Instead, Mr Putin's thinly veiled xenophobia sweeps all before it, and three British Council offices remain of the fifteen less than three years ago.
This dismaying and destructive rift may deepen before it starts to heal: Mr Putin, who leaves office in March, has little reason to foster personal warmth with Gordon Brown, and the chill he radiates instead is bouncing back. It is to be hoped that his successor wants a thaw.
A Russian Times Online reader responds:
I address to all Westerners. Understand, that the British Advice - a mix of recruiting item with a propaganda shop and about it all already know in Russia. By means of such offices England clings to the imperial past, trying to distribute the influence through introduction of English outlook. To correct position, England should refuse symbols of the imperial past, and to the British Advice to collect suitcases and to return to London, and to work, work... To Russians your advice and reproaches, you for us - not an example are already uninteresting! Understand the problems and do not climb to Russia! We do not climb to you advice - you do not climb to us! Your false antiRussian propagation has bothered all in Russia!One can't help but note, as another TOL reader did, how much in need this Russian is of the British Council's English language teaching services. One must also wonder whether this reader is herself affiliated with the government without declaration, and whether she has the same attitude towards the Russia Today state-sponsored television propaganda campaign that operates in Britain and elsewhere. Russians like to think of themselves as living in a "strong" and "resurgent" country thanks to Putin, yet they fear the British Council? As always, Russians' mouths are writing checks their fists can't cash.
A second Russian, referring to himself as "Muslim" comments:
"The question whether or not the British Council is beneficial for Russia is completely irrelevant. The fact is that Brithish Council is NOT a part of British Embassy or Consulate, it is non-departanmental public body, i.e. it's a separate entity. Therefore it should not work in Russia on the same legal basis as foreign Embassy or Consulate at least not until it's relationship to them and it's appropriate legal status is clarified. And Moscow never stated that it wants British Council to shut down completely, Russia merely wants it to properly register as NCO and operate according to Russian law. And again, it is completely irrelevant wether or not this demand is made out of some nefarious intent on part of Kremlin. The fact is that such demand is perfectly legitimate - any country has undeniable right to enforce it's law on it's territory. And Britain's blunt refusal to do so is nothing more but deliberate attempt to provoke large-scale scandal and denigrate Russian authorities."One of our many and valued British readers responds:
How is it possible that people in neo-Soviet Russia believe they can antagonize the civilized world like this? Are they insane, or simply suicidal?I think the FSB have English speakers working full time on black propaganda. Have you noticed (maybe it is only in UK papers) how consistently people with innocent sounding names from all around the world post comments on news websites whenever there is an article which is about? And they always follow the line. I don't think anyone in the world apart from them shares the detail of their actual anti-West xenophobia. What these people write is SO close to the line that I cannot believe they are not FSB.
WHAT "Muslim" in Moscow
1) knows that much about these things?
3) Has any interest in supporting the Russian government which turns a blind eye to police racism, and practices racial cleansing of the Moscow markets, kicking hundreds of Muslims out of a job?
4) Can speak this good English? ("nefarious intent"? Come on!)
5) Reads the Times on line?
6) Has access to and time to sit on a computer reading the foreign press and replying to it?
Believe me, I know from a close friend what it is like to be a Muslim in Moscow. None of them would write this. But it IS from a Russian by the way, because you can tell by the typical way they leave out the "an" in "Russia merely wants it to properly register as NCO" and mis-spell NGO. Non-commissioned officer (NCO) is not the same a Non-governmental organisation (NGO), but it shows how fluent they are. Of course if you had KGB training as a linguist you would know "NCO" because it is a military acronym, wouldn't you and maybe in your over confidence make a mistake like this? Ah! They have given themselves away.