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Russia – UK tensions harming business, say agents

“We are worried as I would say any Russian citizen who cares about the development of our own country in the world [is],” commented Elena Solomonova, director at education counselling company, Insight-Lingua.

Moscow has retaliated in kind to the expulsion of diplomats, as well as closing a US consulate, after a nerve agent attack in Salisbury, UK. Photo: Pixabay

The adult market, Solomonova suggests, is more stable than the junior market in the face of difficulties.

Solomonova was speaking after a nerve agent attack used against a former Russian spy on UK soil has led to political tension between the UK and Russia that spilled over into the rest of Europe.

Education agencies fear there will be an impact on the study abroad industry, despite statements that it will not affect educational programs between the two nations according to Russian ministers.

Some education counselling companies have already experienced cancellations.

The Russian minster of education and science Olga Vasilyeva told Russian news agency TASS that the suspension of British Council in Russia would not affect joint educational and student exchange programs with Britain.

“The decision does not affect other (joint) programs with Britain in the area of education and science, including student exchange programs,” Vasilyeva explained.

“People in this business see stable international relations as a very important area”

Varvara Novikova, head of the PR department at the government-sponsored Project 5-100, said she does not expect joint educational and student exchange programs with Britain to be affected, following the minister’s comments.

But Solomonova told The PIE News that these diplomatic tensions are an unwelcome development.

“People in this business see stable international relations as a very important area,” she said. “It is a sad story.”

Another agent, Grigory Ugarov, the director of Open World Education Group, said that as well as diplomatic tensions, Russians would be influenced by perceived “unfriendly” feelings abroad. 

“After diplomatic tensions with the UK and similar problems with the USA, Russian citizens started to feel that unfriendly atmosphere for Russians have been created abroad,” he said. 

Solomonova added that these fresh tensions could make operations difficult for junior learners.

“[The junior traveller] market is sensitive to many kinds of problems. When parents send their younger kids to travel independently in foreign countries, naturally they care about all possible problems, from climate up to politics,” she said.

Other problems could include currency rates, political or economic crises, disease, and terrorism, she added.

“As soon as the conflict started our counsellors spent hours a day on the phone trying to calm down clients who already booked their trips”

“We already have a cancellation for a group that was booked for the UK and is now looking for other destinations, more likely Ireland. They worry for the political problems.”

Ugarov agreed, saying that the tensions added a further difficulty for agents.

Now in addition… we have to placate clients and explain to them that their stay in Europe, the USA or Australia will be safe and calm. Still some parents do not believe that.”

The Association of Russian Educational Advisors has also reported that its agencies have cancellations caused by the situation and parents would like to have guarantee of kids safety.

In a statement, AREA said it was confident its partner schools would continue to “ensure the students’ safety [and] create the atmosphere of friendship and mutual respect for all nationalities and cultures no matter what political and confessional beliefs could be”.

It added that it expects the visa application process to continue, with Russian students applying for UK visas without any discrimination.

However, Solomonova explained that her team is working hard to deal with clients’ concerns.

“We still hope for the better!”

“As soon as the conflict started our counsellors spent hours a day on the phone trying to calm down clients who already booked their trips and to convince clients with fresh enquiries… we don’t see any problems and we don’t expect any problems.”

Along with the explusion in kind of US and European diplomats, the Russian Federation has demanded the closure of the US Consulate in St Petersburg. This, according to Jey Study, is “the fastest route to get [a] US visa”. 

When several US consulates and visa centres suspended visa services for a period in late-2017, Russian agents told The PIE that such action could have negative effects for their businesses.

According to Ugarov, these uncertainties over visa issuance have returned.

“Now it is practically impossible to get US B1/B2 visas in Russia. F1 US visas are issued as usual for the time being but we do not know what will happen in the future,” he told The PIE

“We are afraid that these relations might be getting worse that will result to the collapse of this sphere of business in Russia. However, we still hope for the better!”

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