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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 January 2008, 14:53 GMT
British Council in Russian test
British Council in Moscow
Russia has linked its action to wider British-Russian tensions
British Council offices will stay open in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg despite a Russian order to close them, the UK embassy in Moscow says.

The British Council's legal position in Russia is "rock solid", a British embassy spokesman told BBC News.

In December the Russian authorities said the council's offices outside Moscow were operating illegally and had to close from 1 January.

The council plans to resume work on 14 January after Russia's New Year break.

The embassy spokesman said the UK "will keep the offices open in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

"They are fully in compliance with the relevant Russian laws and there is no reason to close them," he told the BBC News website on Thursday. The council has a wide range of cultural programmes in Russia.

"It's perplexing that the Russian government is pursuing this vendetta against the British Council, which does only good things for Russia and Russians," the spokesman added.

Russia renews pressure

A Russian foreign ministry spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, reiterated Moscow's demand on Thursday that the British Council halt its activities outside Moscow.

He said "other actions would be provocative in nature and would be aimed at further fuelling tension in bilateral relations".

But the UK embassy spokesman said the British Council's work in Russia was in line with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and a 1994 bilateral accord on cultural relations.

The British Council row came on top of continuing tensions over the fatal poisoning in London of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.

The UK wants Russia to hand over businessman Andrei Lugovoi, whom UK investigators suspect of murdering Mr Litvinenko in November 2006.

When Russia refused to extradite Mr Lugovoi, Britain expelled four Russian diplomats and Moscow followed suit.

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

The European Union has called on Russia to reconsider its order to shut the British Council offices outside Moscow.

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.

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