A mysterious Russian diplomat with a penchant for loungewear and cigarettes sparked a national security standoff between Canberra and the Kremlin on Friday, ignoring Australia’s efforts to occupy a messy construction site in the heart of the capital.
The Australian government warned that a new Russian embassy on land a stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament could be used by intelligence services as a spying base for lawmakers. received and blocked.
While Russia launched a legal tender to preserve the project on Friday, it also embarked on an unusual diplomatic strategy by sending bespectacled officials to squat in a dilapidated mobile hut on the site.
A middle-aged man in track pants and a down jacket poses a formidable challenge to Australian authorities wary of deporting a Russian envoy.
Government officials told AFP the man had diplomatic protection but did not appear to be on the public list of Russian representatives in Australia.
The man remained in his vehicle for much of Friday as several Australian police vehicles parked nearby.
But he finally put on his hood and came out on a frigid Canberra night to smoke and then returned to the hut to watch TV.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described the diplomat on Friday as “a man on the grass in Canberra in the cold”.
The Albanonians claimed that this “man” “is not a threat to our national security.”
– “Russophobic hysteria” –
In a statement, the Russian embassy in Australia confirmed that “staff” were on site “to ensure the security” of a building built to house consular services and construction materials.
But the statement, quoted by the Russian news agency, added: “The information that the police are trying to expel the employees is not true.” No other details were disclosed.
Russia purchased a lease on the land from the Australian government in 2008 and was approved in 2011 to build a new embassy there.
But the Australian government announced last week that it would terminate the lease.
The Australian parliament has passed a law specifically aimed at blocking the building of the Russian embassy about 400 meters (440 yards) from the parliament building.
“The government has received very clear security advice regarding the risks posed by Russia’s new presence so close to the Capitol,” Albanese told reporters.
“We are moving quickly to prevent the lease from becoming an official diplomatic hub.”
The new law, which was passed with bipartisan support, does not stop Russia from having a diplomatic presence in Australia, not just from having a presence very close to parliament.
An Australian government spokesperson said on Friday that Russia is seeking an injunction from the country’s Supreme Court, saying the measure is unconstitutional.
“Russia’s objections to the validity of the law are not unexpected,” he told AFP.
“This is part of Russia’s strategy.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week that it was a demonstration of “Russophobic hysteria”.
Earlier this week, Russia’s foreign ministry released a list of 48 Australians banned from entering the country for promoting an “anti-Russian policy”.
The list also included journalists, government officials and executives from local defense companies.
https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/latest-news/squatting-russian-diplomat-sparks-standoff-in-australia/news-story/8e1ac2ba016b7e1b6205db75a8267419 Russian ‘squatter’ diplomat sparks conflict in Australia