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Undaunted, US Relaunches ‘American Center’ in Moscow

Then U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul is seen speaking to Russian citizens at an event at the old American Center in Moscow, Jan. 21, 2013.

With tensions at near-Cold War levels, Russian authorities have cracked down on official U.S. cultural activities, canceling exchange programs and locking the doors on cultural centers. Now, the U.S. has taken its first step to continue its outreach in Russia.

As part of the initiative, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has relaunched its ‘American Center’ - a cultural learning space.

For 22 years, the center had operated inside a large foreign language public library, but that location was closed in September as U.S.-Russian tensions reach another high-point.

“It seems that some people thought that we should not be there, so they pressured the library to end that relationship,” said State Department official Kathy Kavalec, explaining how the closure came about.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State, the center has found a work-around by relocating to the U.S. Embassy, sovereign territory of the United States. Kavalec, Deputy Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs, spoke at the opening of the center's new home.

“We will miss the ability to kind of draw people in who might not have come in for that reason but happened to see the center and walk on in,“ she said.

The center will function temporarily in several spots throughout the embassy while a new building is under construction.

Center director Kore Gleason was heavy-hearted over the closure but maintains that current U.S.-Russian tensions shouldn’t keep visitors away.

“I think it makes people more interested in engaging in dialogue, and in conversation, and in discussion. So actually I think, if anything, it opens up the playground so to speak,” he said.

Gleason said the center plans to broaden programming to include politics and economics. But to attend activities, Russian citizens will need to clear security and flash their passports under watchful eyes.