Moscow expects London to take first step to improve relations
( RIA Novosti ) - Moscow expects Britain to take the initiative in improving bilateral relations with Russia, the Russian foreign minister said on Wednesday.
"We value our partnership with Britain. But it was they who took the first step in the creation of the current situation. So we expect from them another first step to rectify it," Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with the Russian daily, Vremya Novostei, published on Wednesday.
Relations between the two countries hit an all-time low following the murder of Kremlin critic and security service defector, Alexander Litvinenko, in London in November 2006. In July 2007 London expelled Russian diplomats, imposed visa restrictions and suspended anti-terrorism cooperation with Russia after it refused to extradite the main suspect in the case. Moscow retaliated by also expelling diplomats.
Commenting on the situation concerning the closure of the British Council's regional offices in Russia from January 1, 2008, Lavrov said it was it was a response to British actions.
"In response to Britain's measures to freeze talks on an agreement to ease visa regulations we froze talks on the agreement on cultural centers," the Russian foreign minister said.
The British Council has been involved in three years of legal wrangling with Russian authorities over the alleged non-payment of tax and questions over its legal status.
The non-governmental organization, which is the cultural arm of the British Embassy and promotes education and cultural programs, first established an office in Moscow in the 1990s, going on to open a further 14 offices across Russia.
Russia's Foreign Ministry earlier said there was no bilateral status agreement in place to permit the opening of these regional offices, and the British Council had in fact made no requests to open the branches.
Britain argued that the British Council's presence in Russia was "entirely consistent with international law, including the Vienna Conventions," with the British foreign secretary also referring to "a 1994 U.K./Russia Agreement on Cooperation in Education, Science and Culture, signed by Russia."