(QHA) -

Russia has canceled its participation in a respected program that sends high school students from former Soviet republics to study in the United States -- a move that comes amid Western sanctions against Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Tefft, says Russia informed Washington on September 30 that it will not participate in next year's Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program.

Tefft said: "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."

Under the program, more than 8,000 Russian high school students have lived with American familes and attended U.S. high schools.

More than 20,000 students have taken part in the program, which also involves Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazkahstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine.