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US exchange programs must comply with Russian laws — diplomat

October 01, 2014, 15:08 UTC+3 MOSCOW

Russia pulled out from the American sponsored student exchange program for high school children, Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX)

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Russian Foreign Ministry buildng in Moscow

Russian Foreign Ministry buildng in Moscow

© ITAR-TASS/Gennady Khamelyann

MOSCOW, October 1. /TASS/. 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, a senior official with the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Russian Foreign Ministry's Special Representative for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law Konstantin Dolgov’s comment came in the wake of Russia’s withdrawal from US-sponsored student exchange program FLEX.

“The Russian Foreign Ministry repeatedly drew attention of the [US] Department of State to the necessity of observing the rights of adolescent Russian citizens traveling to the United States to live in American host families with the aim of improving the level of their English language [knowledge],” Dolgov said.

“This first of all goes to undisputable guarantees of children’s return home upon the very first request from their parents and such guarantees were not provided by the Department of State, which cited lack of proper powers,” he said.

“An unacceptable situation emerged as a result, when our [Russian] school students were in fact subjected to legislature of American states, where under-aged were able to choose on their own and without their parents’ permission the place for living or be adopted,” Dolgov said. “All this in turn formed loops to bypass Russian legislature, which includes adoption ban for Russian children by American families, including by families with non-traditional [sexual] orientation. Unfortunately such incident took place.”

“Russia has nothing against educational and humanitarian exchange programs with the United States that provide for the mutual understanding and development of contacts between people,” Dolgov said.

“However, such cooperation must be equal, not contradictory with Russian laws and our [Russian] international obligations, which we, unlike the United States, observe in regard to children’s rights protection and in regard to moral and ethical principles of the Russian society.”

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 went to study in 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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