The Australian government passed an emergency bill last week to block the construction of a new Russian embassy on land near the Australian Parliament building.
On Friday, the Aussie federal police announced they have been monitoring a lone Russian diplomat who is bizarrely squatting on the parcel of land where the embassy would have been built.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the unidentified Russian oddball posed no threat to Parliament.
“Australia will stand up for our values and we will stand up for our national security, and a bloke standing in the cold on a bit of grass in Canberra is not a threat to our national security,” Albanese said at a press conference on Friday.
“The site is secure and we are comfortable with our position,” he said.
Albanese said he was confident the situation will be “resolved” soon because the temperature in Canberra dips into the thirties this time of year. That could be a grievous underestimation of Russian tolerance for cold weather.
The Australian described the interloper as a middle-aged “mystery Russian diplomat with a penchant for loungewear and cigarettes.” He has been glimpsed emerging from a cabin on the blocked construction site wearing “track pants and a puffer jacket.” He apparently spends much of his time watching TV in the cabin.
The Russian embassy stated it has “employees” living on the site to “ensure the safety” of existing consular structures and construction materials. The embassy did not specify the exact number of employees or identify them. As of Friday morning, Russian officials have refused all inquiries from the media about the standoff.
The Russian embassy added that rumors of Australian police efforts to “expel our employees” are not true. Bemused passersby reported the Australian Federal Police are camped on the road nearby and watching the Russian, but they saw no attempt to arrest or evict him. The Federal Police reportedly considered removing the Russian but concluded they could not arrest him because he has diplomatic immunity.
The strange standoff in Canberra began when the Australian government decided to tear up a lease for the property granted to the Russian embassy in 2008. The construction of a new embassy building was approved in 2011. Russian diplomats are currently headquartered in the same embassy building used by the Soviet Union.
The new structure would be only a quarter-mile from the Australian Parliament House, and it would also be uncomfortably close to the U.S., British, and Canadian embassies. Local officials in Canberra tried to scuttle the lease on the grounds that Russia promised to finish construction within three years in 2011 but erected only a “small perimeter building” in the ensuing dozen years, but Russia won an Australian Federal Court judgment against its eviction notice.
On June 15, Parliament passed emergency legislation that terminated Russia’s lease on the land, citing the heightened risk of espionage following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“The government has received very clear security advice as to the risk presented by a new Russian presence so close to Parliament House. We are acting quickly to ensure the lease site does not become a formal diplomatic presence,” Albanese said when the bill was passed less than three hours after he introduced it, with very little opposition from legislators.
“We won’t tolerate foreign espionage conducted in a way that is against our national interest. We won’t tolerate people seeking to interfere with electoral processes in our country,” opposition leader Peter Dutton declared.
Albanese would not say if similar action was planned against the Chinese embassy, which is situated across the street from the nixed Russian construction site.
The Kremlin responded angrily to Australia’s emergency legislation, accusing Canberra of “Russophobic hysteria” and promising Moscow would “behave accordingly” in response, including a lawsuit filed on constitutional grounds with the Australian High Court.
On Wednesday, Russia denied entry to 48 Australian citizens as retaliation for “politically motivated sanctions against Russian citizens and legal entities, imposed by the Australian government within the framework of the collective West’s Russophobic campaign.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry described the banned Australians as “military-industrial complex contractors, reporters and municipal deputies that form the anti-Russian agenda in this country.”
“Considering that the official Canberra has no intention to abolish the anti-Russian course and continues to produce new sanctions measures, the work on updating the Russian blacklist will continue,” the Foreign Ministry threatened.
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