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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lavrov, Brown Trade Barbs in British Council Dispute

Foreign Minister Segeri Lavrov accused Britain on Friday of systematically trying to undermine diplomatic ties, but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he had the European Union's backing in a dispute over the activities of the British Council.

The British Council -- a British government-funded organization that acts as the cultural arm of the British Embassy -- was ordered last week to close its branches in Yekaterinburg and St. Petersburg by Jan. 1.

Brown said such a move was unacceptable and told reporters after an EU meeting in Brussels on Friday that the EU soon would make its displeasure at Russia's move clear.

In a briefing in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was explicit in his criticism of Britain.

"Britain has embarked on a program of systematic deterioration of our bilateral relations, expelled Russian diplomats, ceased all cooperative contact with the FSB, meaning any and all counter-terrorism cooperation," he said.

"The British side has frozen discussion on improving the visa system which has the utmost importance in the development of relations between our two countries," he said.

Britain said in July that it was scaling back cooperation with Russia as a retaliatory measure over Moscow's refusal to extradite the main suspect in the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko, a former intelligence officer.

London wants Moscow to extradite newly elected State Duma Deputy Andrei Lugovoi -- who denies any guilt -- to stand trial on charges of poisoning Litvinenko with radioactive polonium.

The retaliatory measures included Britain expelling four Russian diplomats. Moscow responded soon after by throwing out four British diplomats.

Following Lavrov's comments, Brown told reporters that Russia could expect to receive the EU's censure. "I talked to many leaders today who are angry with what has happened," he said.