British Council Fight Escalates with Arrests and Harassment

kinnock011608.jpgI thought after yesterday’s post about the British Council dispute, I could safely leave the issue alone (our first post on the topic dates back to June 14, 2007). But then again, I didn’t expect the Russians to start making arrests. Today’s news brings a dramatic escalation to the whole affair, with the interrogation of several British Council employees by the FSB (what on earth could they possibly tell them?), as well as the arrest the director Stephen Kinnock (pictured) on alleged charges of drunk driving. Kinnock is also the son of Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, who chairs the organization.

One spokesman has already saidFirst thing to say, right up front: he was not drunk“, and then said the arrest on this false accusation was used by officials as a pretext to escalate the situation.Indeed it would be quite strange and improbable for the director of British Council to be out drinking right in the middle of the biggest diplomatic row between the UK and Russia in recent memory. I suppose Kinnock is lucky that he wasn’t accused of tax evasion and money laundering also.David Miliband has a new statement up on the FCO website, striking a more conciliatory tone, however the Russians are likely to view it as a paternalistic lecture (especially Miliband’s “advice” to Russia on how to uphold a good reputation).As I wrote yesterday, this dispute is certainly not about whether or not the British Council is operating legally. And after today’s events, it’s not even about the Lugovoi extradition. It’s all about Moscow’s need to feel respected by getting the British to do what they say in this one symbolic instance. A difficult situation has been created in which it’s impossible for the Kremlin to back down on what it has said and ordered, as such a move would unacceptably expose some sort of “weakness” right when all the warring clans are preparing for the transition to the next president. The only resolution possible will be one in which it appears to be Moscow’s idea, or at least Russia gets to come out looking like a winner.Now let’s see if I get to begin blogging about other topics, or if they’ll throw some poor guy in the gulag as part of their elusive and ill-defined search for respect.