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British Council told to cease operations in Russia

The British Council has been ordered to shut down its operations in Russia in a diplomatic row over the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Relations between the UK and Russia have become increasingly strained after a Russian former spy and his daughter were poisoned in Wiltshire on March 4.

The closure of the British Council is one of a series of moves announced by Russia’s foreign ministry in response to Britain’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats from the UK.

The British Consulate in St Petersburg will also close, and 23 British diplomats will be forced to leave the country.

A statement from the British Council said: “We are profoundly disappointed at this development. It is our view that when political or diplomatic relations become difficult, cultural relations and educational opportunities are vital to maintain ongoing dialogue between people and institutions.

“We remain committed to the development of long-term people-to-people links with Russia as we do in over 100 other countries.”

The British Council has been running cultural and education activities in Russia since the early 1990s, based in Moscow.

It previously operated a network of regional offices. It was ordered to close these in 2007 over alleged tax violations, however British officials claimed it was retaliation over British expulsion of diplomats allegedly involved with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.

The British Council’s work in Russia includes programmes to connect cultural professionals from both countries, including study visits and lectures, as well as projects to introduce Russia to UK arts.

In 2014, a Russia-UK Year of Culture saw the largest programme of British cultural projects take place across the country.