British Council in Trouble Again in Russia

Out of all the various British businesses and institutions that the Russian government could harass and expel from the country, isn’t it odd that they have chosen a harmless group of English teachers? We first reported on the attempts to expel this non-profit organization from its offices in Yekaterinaburg last June, and today there is news that the authorities have banned the group from operating outside of Moscow, as the government has claimed that three offices have failed to properly register. You have to admire the ongoing efforts to produce the reasoning of counterfeit legalism on the matter. According to the Foreign Ministry statement, “In the absence of a legal basis regulating the activities of the British Council in the Russian Federation, the British side has been informed about the suspension of the activities of all regional branches of the Council in Russia from January 1, 2008. … At issue is the suspension of their activities, including current projects, until an agreement between the Russian and British sides can be reached.” Of course not everyone is buying into this explanation, and many are pointing to the poor state of relations between the two countries over the Litvinenko affair. “We are going back to the Iron Curtain … This is a return to a policy of isolation,” said Lyudmilla Alexeyeva from the Moscow Helsinki Group. For one, I really don’t see the point of pretending that there is actually a substantive legal basis behind Russia’s banning of the British Council – why not just tell the truth, and say the teachers can go back to work when relations with the UK improve? And two, isn’t it the Russian students who receive these subsidized English lessons the ones who are really being punished?