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Russia's pullout from US-funded student exchange program confirmed

October 01, 2014, 14:17 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Russia holds nothing against educational and humanitarian exchange programs with the United States, but cooperation in this sphere must be equal and not contradictory to the Russian laws

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Pavel Astakhov

Pavel Astakhov

© ITAR-TASS/Yuri Mashkov

MOSCOW, October 1. /TASS/. Russia pulled out from the American sponsored student exchange program for high school children, Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX), due to US failure to comply with obligations concerning children’s return back to their country after the program, Russian children’s rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov said on Wednesday.

“I confirm information about Russia’s withdrawal from the Students Exchange Program with the United States,” Astakhov wrote on his Twitter account. “One of the reasons is the US gross breach of obligations concerning an unconditional return of Russian students from their academic year [in the United States].”

According to the children’s rights ombudsman, one of the Russian exchange students did not return home after unnamed US citizens registered guardianship rights for the teenager and kept him in the country.

“As a result of actions contradictory to the program’s provisions and regulations one of the teenagers remained staying in the United States,” Astakhov said.

Russian Foreign Ministry's Special Representative for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Konstantin Dolgov said on Wednesday commenting on Russia’s withdrawal that Russia holds nothing against educational and humanitarian exchange programs with the United States, but cooperation in this sphere must be equal and not contradictory to the Russian laws.

US reaction 

News about Russia’s withdrawal for at least one year from the 21-year-old exchange program initially appeared on the website of the US Embassy in Moscow on Tuesday night.

“The US Embassy in Moscow was informed today that the Russian Government has decided to cancel Russian participation in the 2015-2016 Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program, the largest U.S.-Russian educational exchange program,” the embassy said in its statement.

The US diplomatic mission expressed its deep regret in connection with Russia’s decision to suspend the FLEX program.

“We deeply regret this decision by the Russian government to end a program that for 21 years has built deep and strong connections between the people of Russia and the United States,” the statement said.

“For over two decades, the FLEX program has brought more than 8,000 Russian high school students to the United States to live with American host families, attend high school and experience community life for an academic year,” the statement added.

Future Leaders Exchange program

The FLEX program was initiated by New York Senator Bill Bradley and approved by the US Congress in 1992. Under the program, financed by the US budget, children from sophomore, junior and senior classes from former Soviet Union republics (except for the Baltic states) went to the United States as exchange students for one academic year.

Children studied at high schools and lived in American host families throughout all 50 states of the United States and were also paid a monthly student’s allowance.

Some 8,000 Russian teenagers out of over 23,000 students in total participated in the FLEX program during its 21-year history.

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

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