Russia Considering Legal Action After Canberra Lease on New Australian Embassy Site Terminated
By Christopher Knaus
The Russian government says it is considering legal action against a federal authority after it was ordered off the site of its new embassy in Canberra.
On Wednesday, the National Capital Authority said it had terminated the Russian embassy’s lease over a block of land in Yarralumla, a wealthy lakeside suburb in Canberra, and ordered it to clear the site within 20 days.
The block was being used to construct the Russian government’s new embassy. It had bought the site in 2008 and had plans approved in 2011, but the NCA, which oversees planning and development in some parts of the capital, said construction had failed to progress and the unfinished works were detracting “from the overall aesthetic, importance and dignity of the area reserved for diplomatic missions and foreign representation in the national capital”.
On Thursday, News Corp reported that there were concerns about the potential for Russia’s new embassy to enhance its intelligence capabilities. The report, citing anonymous sources, also said the home affairs department had blocked Russian contractors from entering Australia, ostensibly to check the work on the new embassy, over fears they were associated with Russian intelligence.
The NCA, in its reasons for terminating the lease, said the Russian government had promised it would complete the new building within three years. The NCA said it had a “use it or lose it” policy over diplomatic blocks, due to their limited availability.
The Russian embassy said in a statement it was considering legal action against the “unprecedented and highly unwelcome move by the NCA”.
“The building project had indeed encountered multiple problems and delays through several years,” a spokesperson said. “At all times these were a matter of constructive and frank consultations between the embassy and the NCA.
“It is really puzzling why the NCA chose to terminate the lease now that the construction process at Yarralumla site has been steadily going on uninterrupted for the last two plus years with results already very much visible and prospects rather clear.”
The Russian embassy is expected to continue to operate from its current location in Canberra’s inner-south suburb of Griffith.
NCA chief executive, Sally Barnes, said “in the absence of a commitment to a completion date, the NCA decided to terminate the lease”.
“Ongoing unfinished works detract from the overall aesthetic, importance and dignity of the area reserved for diplomatic missions and foreign representation in the national capital,” she said.
The embassy has been approached for comment on the allegations its contractors were blocked from entering Australia due to suspected links to intelligence.