World News

British Council may be spy front: Medvedev

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Britain’s cultural arm, forced by Russia to close its regional offices, may be a front for British intelligence, the man most likely to be Russia’s next president said in an interview published on Monday.

The British Council last month suspended its operations in two Russian cities after the authorities said they were operating illegally and staff were summoned for interviews with state security officers.

“If you are invited into someone’s home, you should behave respectfully,” Russia’s Itogi news magazine quoted Dmitry Medvedev as saying in an interview.

“It is well known that structures such as the British Council which are financed by the state, apart from their social and educational functions, carry out a mass of other tasks which they do not advertise so widely,” he said.

“Among other things they are engaged in gathering information and they carry out intelligence activity,” he said in a transcript of the interview posted on the magazine’s Internet site

A spokeswoman for the British Council in London, asked to respond to Medvedev’s comments, said: “Absolutely not. Under no circumstances does the British Council work with government intelligence agencies.”

Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister, has been endorsed by outgoing President Vladimir Putin for the Kremlin top job. Opinion polls rank him as overwhelming favourite to win a March 2 presidential election.

The row between London and Moscow over the British Council further damaged relations that were already at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

The deterioration in ties was sparked by the 2006 murder of emigre Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London. Moscow refused to extradite the man British prosecutors suspect of killing Litvinenko with a fatal dose of radiation.

Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Alison Williams