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Last Updated: Friday, 21 December 2007, 17:45 GMT
EU urges Russia to reverse UK ban
British Council in Moscow
Russian officials linked the closure to an ongoing spat with the UK
The European Union has called on Russia to reconsider its order to shut down two British Council offices.

The Russian government said this month that the offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg had broken laws, including tax rules.

In a statement, the EU expressed its concern, citing the importance of culture in the "EU-Russia partnership".

A dispute over the loan of Russian art was resolved when Britain promised the works would be immune from seizure.

Relations between Britain and Russia have worsened dramatically since the London murder of Russian exile, Alexander Litvinenko, in November 2006.

The European Union expresses its concern and urges the Russian authorities to revisit their decision concerning the closing down of the offices of the British Council in Yekaterinburg and St Petersburg
EU presidency statement

Russian officials even described the action against the British Council as a retaliatory measure.

The series of tit-for-tat actions began when Russia refused to extradite a main suspect in the murder.

Britain expelled four Russian diplomats and Russia followed suit.

The EU said it had strived to develop a solid cultural relationship with the Russian Federation and underlined the role of cultural institutes in fostering co-operation.

Two of those institutes in Moscow, the Goethe and Cervantes, wrote a letter to the Russian government this week describing their "deep concern" at what they considered to be its "discriminatory action".

The British government insists its cultural arm complies fully with Russian tax laws.

Before Moscow acted against the offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, the British Council had already announced it was closing another nine regional offices.

It said the operations would be transferred to Russian partners.

Art legislation

The threat to an exhibition at the Royal Academy had been linked to the diplomatic spat between Britain and Russia.

Moscow had threatened to cancel the loan of valuable paintings because it was concerned they might be impounded as part of a dispute over ownership dating back to the Russian Revolution.

But both governments acted to resolve their differences.

British Culture Secretary James Purnell said he would push through legislation early next month guaranteeing protection of the works.

The Russian authorities said the exhibition should go ahead.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defends Russia's action

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