Russia summons British ambassador Anthony Brenton

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Moscow, Jan 14 (UNI) Russian Foreign Ministry today summoned British ambassador Anthony Brenton to protest over the British Council's decision to keep two of its regional offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinbut open in defiance of a closure order.

''The British ambassador was told that Russia considers such actions to be a deliberate provocation aimed at increasing tensions in Russian-British relations,'' the Ministry said in a statement.

Russia had ordered the British Council to suspend its regional operations from January 1, over tax and legal status violations.

After his meeting with his counterparts in the Ministry, Brenton told reporters that the British Council operations were legitimate and warned that Russia's actions would be "a breach of international law." Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement that the Council's regional offices violated the 1963 Vienna convention on consulate relations.

He also said Russia was not linking the British Council problem with other aspects of its relations with Britain, adding that "We believe London is fully to blame for the current dispute.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also said Russia would refuse visas to "new employees sent to work in the British consular offices of St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg to carry out British Council work." "Since our calls have not been heard, the Russian side has been forced to take a number of administrative and legal measures in line with Russian law and world practice," the Ministry said.

The British Council, a non-profit organisation that promotes education and cultural programmmes, first set up an office in Moscow in the 1990s and opened 14 offices across Russia.

The organisation has been involved in legal wrangling with Russian authorities over the alleged non-payment of tax and issues relating to its legal status.

London has accused Moscow of linking the British Council issue with the extradition row over Andrei Lugovoi, Britain's main suspect in the murder of ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, in London in 2006.

Britain insists that Lugovoi, a former Kremlin bodyguard, poisoned Litvinenko, and has demanded his extradition. Russia refused to extradite him, citing its Constitution.

The row led to tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions by Britain and Russia in July 2006.

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