A woman stands outside the office of the British Council in St Petersburg Jan. 16, 2008. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Thursday Russia's actions on British Council were "reprehensible" and "a stain on Russia's reputation." (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Thursday Russia's actions on British Council were "reprehensible" and "a stain on Russia's reputation."
"I think the whole House will agree that such actions are reprehensible, not worthy of a great country, and contrary to the letter and spirit of the legal framework under which the British Council operates -- notably international law, including the Vienna Conventions, and the UK/Russia 1994 bilateral agreement on cultural cooperation which Russia has ratified." Miliband said in a statement at the House of Commons.
"Russia's actions against the British Council are a stain on Russia's reputation and standing that will have been noted by countries all around the world." he said.
"Russia has failed to show any legal reasons under Russian or international law why the British Council should not continue to operate." said Miliband, adding "It has also failed to substantiate its claims that the British Council is avoiding paying tax."
"I am confident that the whole House will share the anger and dismay felt by this government at the actions of the Russian government. We saw similar actions during the Cold War but thought frankly they had been put behind us." he said.
However, Miliband said Britain regarded as "entirely separate issues" Litvinenko's murder and the activities of the British Council so that Britain decided not to take similar action against Russia's cultural activities in Britain.
Miliband noted that the immediate cost to the Russian people of the Russian government's actions was their lack of access to the benefits of British Council activity, and the longer term cost was their country's standing in the world as a responsible international player.
Miliband insisted that the British Council continue its work in Moscow, meeting the demand from as many as possible of the 1.25 million Russian citizens who used the council's services last year.
On Wednesday, British Council in Russia said it was "deeply concerned" about its staff's safety after its employees were interviewed by Russian security services and its St. Petersburg director were detained by Russian police.
The British Council is an organization that promotes cultural relations and arranges educational exchanges with other countries.
Russia in December ordered the closure of two regional offices of the British Council in Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg from the start of the new year, citing illegal status and tax problems. However, the two British Council offices reopened on Monday after a holiday break.
On Monday, Russia called the reopening of British Council offices in this country a "deliberate provocation" and vowed to take new measures against the British cultural body while Britain stood firm on the issue that has further soured relations between the two countries.
British cultural officials have said Russia's decision to shut down the British Council offices was politically charged. But Moscow denied the claim.
Ties between Moscow and London have been bruised by the dispute over the poisoning case of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko.
Britain expelled four Russian diplomats in July last year due to Russia's refusal to extradite a main suspect in the case, Andrei Lugovoi, who was accused of murdering Litvinenko. Russia also expelled four British diplomats.