The State Department criticized the “unfortunate move” by the Russian government to force closure of an American center in Moscow after more than two decades in operation.
The snub comes as the U.S. is at least trying to appear as if it’s being assertive on Russia’s military involvement in support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, with Secretary of State John Kerry making his third call in 10 days to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday.
“The U.S. Embassy in Moscow deeply regrets the Russian government’s unilateral decision to close the Embassy’s American Center at M. Rudomino All-Russia State Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow,” U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Tefft said in a statement issued by the Embassy today. “The Library recently terminated the formal agreement for Embassy support of the Center, informed us of its intention to replace the American Director of the Center, and its intent to take full control of all of the Center’s activities.”
“This unfortunate move by the Russian government ends over 22 years of U.S.-Russia cooperation at the American Center in the Library of Foreign Languages,” Tefft continued. “The American Center has built deep and strong connections between the people and cultures of Russia and the United States. The Center served as a focal point of American culture, history and literature in Russia’s capital, and also hosted countless high-level American visitors as speakers including astronauts, actors, athletes, academics, political figures, and authors. In the last year alone, the American Center hosted over 400 cultural and educational activities, and welcomed over 50,000 Russian visitors.”
A year ago, Russia put a stop to the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program between the two countries.
“These latest unilateral steps further call into question the Russian government’s commitment to maintaining people-to-people ties between the Russian and American people, which continued even during the Cold War and other complicated moments in our countries’ long history,” the ambassador added.
At the State Department today, spokesman Mark Toner told reporters it was the latest in a “systematic closing down or shutting down of our American centers over the past couple of years.”
“This is only the — I think, the final straw,” Toner said. “But that — these are simply places where Russian citizens can get information about the United States, and are able to learn more about American culture, politics, whatever.”
“…I think what is happening now, we believe what is happening now, the United States in terms of closing that information space — and that free information space in Russia is concerning. That’s a much broader topic about the state of, frankly, Russia’s democracy.”