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Russia hails closure of British Council offices

A Russian police officer stands outside the office of the British Council in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg January 16, 2008. REUTERS/Konstantin Vorobyev

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia claimed victory in its row with the British government’s cultural centres on Friday, saying London’s decision to close the British Council’s regional offices was long overdue.

The British Council decided to suspend operations in two Russian cities after staff were summoned for interviews with the Federal Security Service, main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

Russia had demanded the closure of the two offices on the grounds they were operating illegally, in the latest spat in a rift with Britain that started with the London murder in late 2006 of ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko.

“Announcing the suspension of operations by the British Council in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg, the British side has finally done what it should have done long ago,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, said in a statement.

Britain on Thursday accused Russia of using Cold War tactics to intimidate British Council staff. Foreign Minister David Miliband called Moscow’s actions “reprehensible.”

In its statement, the Russian foreign ministry hit back at those comments.

“Attempts to politicise this theme by the British side, to distort facts and resort to negative rhetoric, are not helping to improve the climate of our bilateral relations in general.”

Reporting by Conor Sweeney