Anglo-Russian tensions rise with "drunk" arrest
( dpa )- The simmering tension between Russia and Britain took a further bizarre twist Wednesday with the arrest of a senior British Council official in St Petersburg - who also happens to be son of a prominent British Labour Party politician.
The government in London gave a furious reaction to the arrest on charges of drunk driving of Stephen Kinnock, director of the British Council representation in St Petersburg, and the son of Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader and European Union Commissioner.
Kinnock jr was arrested Tuesday evening but released Wednesday in what marked an escalation in the row over the Council's work in Russia - linked by many to the deterioration in diplomatic ties as a result of the Litvinenko affair.
Kinnock was pulled over in St Petersburg for driving down a one-way street, a traffic officer told the Interfax news agency.
"While checking Mr Kinnock's documents, we noticed a steady smell of alcohol. He refused a physical examination, but a report was made calling upon passersby as witnesses," the officer said.
The British government warned Russia Wednesday against the "intimidation" of Council staff, which was "completely unacceptable" and said it was informing the Russian ambassador of its concerns.
"The only losers from any attack on the British Council are the Russian citizens who want to use it," Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in London.
It was later reported that British Council offices in St Petersburg, and in Yekatarinenburg , had been temporarily closed because Russian staff were being questioned by Russia's Federal Security Service SFB.
A spokesman from the British Council confirmed that employees had been summoned for interviews and some staff had received house calls from Foreign Ministry representatives late Tuesday night.
The conflict over the cultural organization is the latest in a down-spiral of bilateral relations since the 2006 poisoning death in London of Russian spy-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko .
When the new row erupted, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had suspended drafting the new cooperation agreement that constitutes the muddy legal basis for the organization's operations "as retaliation for the expelling of Russian diplomats from London."
Russia cited a 1963 Vienna Convention on consular activities to order the closure in December of the British government's 15 regional offices including those in St Petersburg and Yekaterinenburg .
Britain, however, has ignored Russian directives, with its ambassador Anthony Brenton saying the order to close was against international law.
A sign on the door of the British Council office in St Petersburg on Wednesday announced its forced closure.
"The British Council in St Petersburg is temporarily closed in connection with late legal actions of the Russian authorities," it read.
Head of the Duma Committee on International Affairs Konstantin Kosachyov said the parliament would discuss the diplomatic situation at its regular session on Wednesday.
He emphasized "Russian authorities have all the means necessary to insist on stopping the activity of British Council offices."
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the Council's reopening a "deliberate provocation" in a statement on Monday, and declared it would refuse visas to new Council employees and demand back taxes from the organization.
Brenton , who has been vilified by pro- Putin groups in recent weeks, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday for the second time this week.
Anglo-Russian relations sunk to new Cold War lows after Moscow refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi , an ex-KGB bodyguard suspected of murdering Litvinenko .
But the conflict over the Council's legal status has churned since 1994. The organization sees itself as the cultural arm of the British Embassy and is not registered as a non-governmental organization under new Russian laws.