Stymied by their continuing diplomatic brouhaha with the UK over mutual extradition requests, the brilliant minds inside the Kremlin have set the dogs loose on just about every British institution and business within reach to ratchet up the pressure. The latest target: English teachers at the British Council.
According to reports published in Kommersant and the Financial Times, representatives from the Foreign Ministry have notified this cultural institution that they will soon be expelled from their facilities in the city of Ekaterinburg, on the preposterous grounds that the British Council enjoys diplomatic immunity from Russian law. The Council, a non-profit organization which promotes the English language through classes, libraries, educational resources, and events, has been harassed numerous times in the past at various locations throughout Russia, and even blamed by some for contributing to the country’s brain drain as students leave to study abroad. Many times these English teachers were harassed over mundane regulatory technicalities like fire codes, much in the style of Oleg Mitvol’s “environmental” issues with foreign oil companies. Civil society expert Maria Slobodskaya told Kommersant that the interference with the British Council is part of the country-wide campaign against independent NGOs: “The British Council did not move into the premises just yesterday, but the claims arose now, against a background of difficulties in relations between the two countries. As a result, the suspicion arises that the story has more to do with politics than with international law.” Having personally known many teachers working at different British Council locations across the world during my young expatriate days, I can assure you that this is one of the most harmless organizations out there, unless annoying elitism has suddenly become a crime. It takes a special kind of suspicion and paranoia to believe that the British Council could possibly be harboring malicious intentions, and furthermore, it would seem highly doubtful that harassing this school would produce the outcome the Kremlin is looking for. Could you ever imagine the British government, in a fit of frustration over the Lugovoi extradition, sending a team of bobbies into the Pushkin House to push people around just to send a message to Moscow?