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The U.K. Foreign Office said Moscow's actions against the British Council,
The U.K. Foreign Office said Moscow's actions against the British Council, whose regional offices Russia wants closed for alleged tax violations, could further harm bilateral relations.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Monday it would deny visas to new British consular staff in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg after the local British Council offices continued work despite a closure order.

"Such threats can only make matters worse," Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in the statement. "It is not in the interests of either the U.K. or Russia for flourishing cultural, educational and scientific links to be held hostage to unrelated issues in this way."

The British Council, a non-profit cultural arm of the U.K. government, has been involved in three years of legal wrangling with Russian authorities over the alleged non-payment of tax and issues relating to its legal status.

Miliband said London would soon release an official reaction to Russia's actions. "The Government will consider these latest actions by Russia carefully and will continue to engage with our international partners on them. We will respond to the Russian Government shortly," he said.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Monday that the British Council's decision to keep two of its regional offices open in defiance of an official order was an act of provocation.

British Ambassador Tony Brenton was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday, and insisted that the British Council's operations were legitimate.

The British Council, which promotes education and cultural programs, first established an office in Moscow in the 1990s and went on to open a further 14 offices across the country.


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