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Russian-British Relations Reach Low Point


Relations between Russia and Britain have reached their lowest point since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Tensions between the two countries began after the murder of Russian security service defector Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006 in London. More recently, two out of three offices of the British Council in Russia were shut down by Russian authorities. As Anya Ardayeva reports from Moscow, the standoff is likely to continue following the election of a new Russian president.

The Kremlin youth group Nashi demonstrated outside the American Embassy after Vladimir Putin's appointed successor Dmitri Medvedev won the presidential election. The group says Russia will no longer allow outsiders to meddle in Moscow's affairs.

The government recently shut down two out of three offices of the British Council, an organization which promotes cultural and educational ties. Council offices in the Russian cities of Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg were closed last month.

Analyst Vladimir Rozhankovsky, of the Ak-Bars Bank, along with others signed a letter to Russian authorities protesting the closure of the offices where he once worked.

"This determined my career,” Rozhankovsky said. “I was 28, graduated from an average Russian institute in 1995, my profession was not in demand because the country was in shambles. This was a chance to get a second profession, participate in a serious program."

Tensions between Britain and Russia began when Moscow refused to extradite Andrei Lugovoi. He is the man Britain suspect murdered ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Some officials in Moscow accuse Britain of not providing enough evidence of Lugovoi's involvement in the case

"We do not believe your words,” Russian Duma deputy Sergei Markov said. “You have been telling us for a year that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Where is it? Iraq is destroyed, Sunnis and Shiites are fighting with each other, tens of thousands of people are dead - where are the weapons? Will you do the same thing here, in this case? And then tell us that you are sorry? We don't want it. We don't want to be victims of your mistakes."

Russia's President-elect Dmitri Medvedev recently accused Britain of spying - an indication that Moscow doesn't plan to back down.

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, accuses the British Council of opening illegally, without government permission. He says, "I understand that a historic memory, connected with nostalgia for colonial times, is dominating over the lawful side of the question - but this is not the language one should use to talk to Russia."

In recent years, Russia has appeared less willing to compromise when dealing with its former allies. Analysts such as Vladimir Rozhankovsky say that is largely because Moscow feels more confident with its booming economy and high oil prices.

"Russia suddenly feels that it can be independent, that it's a rich country with massive resources and one of the most dynamically developing economies, and we can go over board here and lose friends. It's a sad thing," he said.

Meanwhile, neither Britain nor Russia indicates they will back down in a diplomatic dispute now in its second year.

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