Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bilateral Relations: British Council defies Russia's order to suspend activities

The British Council's office in Yekaterinburg, Russia has defied Russian Foreign Ministry instructions, by opening after the holiday break.

Interfax reports that the Foreign Ministry had instructed the Council to suspend its activities until the British Embassy clarifies its status. Last month, the ministry ordered the British Council to close its offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg on Jan. 1.

However, Yelena Chesnokova, a spokeswoman for the British Embassy's Consulate General in Yekaterinburg said the Yekaterinburg office defied the order, and the St. Petersburg office will follow suit on Monday. She added, "The issue of the status [of the two offices] is currently being resolved on the diplomatic level."

The council is funded by the British government, acting as the cultural arm of the British Embassy. The dispute over its status revolves around the English language courses offered by the Council. The Foreign Ministry claims the course make a profit and therefore the Council should register as a nongovernmental organization (NGO).