Rising tensions between Russia and Britain

The World

The trouble started yesterday when Russian staff members for the St. Petersburg office of the British Council were questioned by state security. There was more questioning today. in a separate incident, the British official in charge of the office was briefly stopped by police and accused of drunk driving. Britain reacted sharply today. Foreign Secretary said any attempt to intimidate the British Council staff was completely unacceptable, �The work of the British Council in Russia is completely legal under Russian and international law, and we think it’s very important to defend the integrity of our officials in the work they’re doing. The only losers from any attack on the British Council are Russian citizens who want to use the British Council, one and a quarter million last year, and the reputation of the Russian government.� The Russian Foreign Minister dismissed the British Foreign Secretary’s assertion that the British Council is operating legally. �The British Council has opened all its missions in Russia without securing any authorization from the Russian government,� the Foreign Minister said, �We, of course, understand the historical memory, possibly related to colonial times prevails, but that is not the language to use with Russia.� But his critics are struck by his language. �It is ridiculous in my opinion,� says this Stanford professor, �Russia has been a colonial power for hundreds and hundreds of years. For them now to say this is due to some colonial hangover is just absurd, it’s, you look at these Russian statements and you look at Russian television and it feels like we’re back in the Cold War.� The professor says the dispute with Britain does indeed date back to the Litvinenko affair, but it is also part of a larger battle Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, is waging against perceived threats to his rule from the West, �So if you look over the course of his eight years now in power, he has systematically weakened any autonomous political entity. And once that ran out they went after non-political entities, like NGos working on various innocuous types of issues. And now they’ve reached out to even things like the British Council which has been teaching the English language, that’s the most important thing that they do.� The professor says Russia has gone from being a weak democracy to an autocratic regime and he thinks the current situation is tragic, �After the collapse of the Soviet Union, you had this moment where Russia, the government, and Russians thought of themselves as integrating into the West. But the result has been and fueled by propaganda from the Putin regime that you see almost nightly now on Russian television about all the evils that the West are doing, that Russians now no longer think of themselves as joining the West. That’s a great historical opportunity missed.� As for the current crisis, Russia is demanding that Britain shut two British Council offices; Britain has so far refused to do that.

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