The British government’s cultural arm has closed its regional offices in Russia, saying “intimidation” makes it impossible to continue.
The British Council has found itself at the centre of a growing diplomatic row between Moscow and London.
UK Foreign Minister David Miliband said: “Russia has failed to show any legal reasons under Russian or international law why the British Council should not continue to operate. Therefore, instead of taking legal action against the council, the Russian government has resorted to the intimidation of council’s staff.
“We saw similar actions during the Cold War but frankly thought that they had been put behind us.”
Staff at the branches were interviewed by the FSB security service and some received late-night home visits.
One Moscow man said he expected it would all blow over: “This is all politics, you know. It is just that relations with Britain have become worse and this is the cause. I don’t think that this is serious. I think things will be sorted out eventually. I think common sense will prevail and everything will be fine.”
The dispute dates back to the 2006 poisoning of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko.
When Russia refused to extradite the man British investigators suspect of the crime, the UK expelled four Russian diplomats, triggering a chain of tit-for-tat measures.