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A Russian diplomat is squatting on a Canberra building site

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A Russian diplomat is squatting at an abandoned embassy site in Canberra, but the PM says he is not a threat.
Russian diplomat in Canberra

A Russian diplomat is refusing to leave a block of land in Canberra after the Federal Government terminated Russia’s lease.

Russia had plans to build a new embassy on the site near Parliament House, but the Government intervened over national security concerns.

Police have so far been unable to remove the man because diplomats cannot typically be arrested.

Background

Russia already has an embassy in Canberra, roughly a 4km drive from Parliament House. In 2008, it made plans to relocate after securing a lease at a vacant site much closer to Parliament House. Building approvals were granted in 2011, but little progress was made.

In 2022, the National Capital Authority announced it would terminate the lease, saying the unfinished site was detracting from the “aesthetic” of the area. Russia challenged this decision in the Federal Court and successfully overturned it last month.

Government intervenes

Last week, the Government passed a law to revoke the lease on national security grounds.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the Government received “very clear advice” that a Russian embassy on the site could interfere with activity in Parliament House.

Russia has announced it plans to challenge the new law in the High Court, but Albanese said today the Government was “confident” it would succeed.

“Some bloke”

Last night, The Australian newspaper reported a Russian diplomat was squatting on the Canberra site in a portable building and refused to leave.

Albanese confirmed this report at a press conference this morning but dismissed the man as “some bloke standing on a blade of grass” and said he posed no security threat.

It’s not clear when or how the man will be removed. The Australian Federal Police are surrounding the site but cannot arrest diplomats.

The Government could facilitate his arrest by declaring him ‘persona non grata’ (effectively revoking his diplomatic immunity).

Albanese said the Government was “confident of [its] position that it will be resolved,” but would not say whether a persona non grata declaration would be made.

Criticism

The Coalition and the Greens have both criticised the Government’s handling of the matter.

Shadow Foreign Minister Simon Birmingham accused Albanese of failing to take the matter seriously. “He seems to want to cast it aside as a bit of a joke… the Government should be looking at all legal avenues available to them.”

David Shoebridge, the Greens’ Defence and Justice spokesperson, tweeted a photo of the Canberra site and called it a “farce”.

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