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Russia cancels US-funded FLEX programme

Tense relations between the US and Russia have led to the cancellation of the largest US-Russian educational exchange programme after a teenage Russian boy sought asylum in the US on the grounds that he faced persecution at home as a homosexual.

The Kremlin says the US has violated a law banning the adoption of Russian children by gay parents

More than 8,000 Russian students have stayed with American host families since the programme started in 1992

Last month the Russian government said it would end its participation in the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) programme after two decades of sending high school aged students to the US for a year of study.

In a statement, US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft said the US “deeply regrets” the decision by the Russian government to cancel the programme which “built deep and strong connections between the people of Russia and the United States.”

“These young Russians have served as cultural ambassadors, representing the best of Russia, to millions of Americans throughout all 50 states”

“These young Russians have served as cultural ambassadors, representing the best of Russia, to millions of Americans throughout all 50 states,” he said.

The 21-year old FLEX programme which is run by the American Councils for International Education has funded more than 23,000 high school students from 10 former Soviet Union countries to go to the US to live with host families, attend high school and “experience community life for an academic year”.

The programme is very popular in Russia where in 2013 alone it received 14,000 applications but accepted only 238 students. In total more than 8,000 Russian students have stayed with American host families since the programme started in 1992.

Despite the fact the move further cuts diplomatic ties between the two countries, Jen Psaki a spokesperson for the State Department was reluctant to draw broader conclusions.

“Clearly, this programme we feel is a very positive programme, and one that’s important for our relationship and one that students enjoy. And this decision only applies, as we understand it, for the next round of FLEX students in 2015-2016,” she said.

The gripe from the Russian government is founded on legislation which bans adoption by gay parents

“But still, I think, clearly, there are issues we work together on, and people-to-people exchanges are a positive part of our relationship.”

The gripe from the Russian government is founded on legislation which bans adoption by gay parents. The Russian government claims that by encouraging the boy to stay under the guardianship of a gay couple the US is in violation of the law.

“The child, who has a mother in Russia, has illegally been placed under guardianship, and the boy has been handed over to a US gay couple,” Russia’s children’s ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said.

“The boy is healthy and comes from a good family, so it’s not clear under what arguments the United States is operating.”

With Russia withdrawn from the programme, the US government has allocated an additional 100 slots for students in Ukraine opening testing centres in Izmayil, Kryvyi Rih and Melitopol.

Other outbound mobility programmes backed by the government include the postgraduate Global Education programme which was announced earlier this year after a similar programme was cancelled mired in disputes that participants would return after completion.

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