May 30, 2024

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Australia Russia embassy row: Suspected Russian diplomat squatter dismissed as just “a bloke” by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese



Hong Kong
CNN
 — 

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has dismissed concerns that a lone Russian diplomat was allegedly squatting on a previously planned Moscow embassy building site, describing the man as “some bloke standing on a blade of grass.”

The site, originally slated for a new Russian embassy in the Australian capital of Canberra, lies directly adjacent to the country’s parliament. Australia’s government last week terminated its lease on the grounds of national security.

That has subsequently set off a diplomatic row with Moscow which has vowed to challenge the decision.

Multiple Australian media outlets have since reported a bizarre twist to the diplomatic dust up.

A man, believed to be Russian diplomat, has remained at the site in defiance of the move. Images published by media showed the mystery man dressed in a puffer jacket and jeans smoking a cigarette.

Albanese was asked by journalists on Friday to comment on reports that a Russian diplomat had taken up residence in a shed.

“The national security threat that was represented by a Russian Embassy on site is not the same as some bloke standing on a blade of grass on the site – that, we don’t see really as a threat to our national security,” he replied.

When asked about whether the Russian diplomat would be declared persona non grata and deported, Albanese replied, “We’re confident of our position that it will be resolved.”

Home affairs minister Clare O’Neil also weighed in, echoing Albanese’s phrasing and saying that “a bloke sitting on a site is not a national security threat to this country.”

The Russian embassy has declined to comment, Reuters reported Friday.

If the man is a diplomat, he would be covered by diplomatic immunity, presenting an extra layer of complexity for any law enforcement action to remove him.

A spokesperson from the Australian Federal Police told CNN it would not comment “on protection matters.”

The now-scrapped site for the proposed Russian embassy at Yarralumla sits about 400 meters from Australia’s parliamentary precinct.

Australia has sided with Western allies in support of Kyiv since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began more than a year ago. It has condemned Moscow for its “illegal and immoral” military operations.

On Friday, Australia’s home affairs minister said Moscow had told the Australian government that it would take the matter to court.

“The Russian Federation has informed the Commonwealth of its intention to commence legal proceedings in the High Court, in which they will challenge the validity of the legislation on constitutional grounds,” she said.

Albanese said Russia’s frustration was anticipated, but he was confident of his government’s legal position, with work to formalize possession of the site under way.

Russia secured the lease to the land from the Australian government in 2008. Three years later, it was granted approval to build its new embassy there.

Albanese said it was “a different time” since the lease was granted in 2008. “What my government’s responsible for is now, and my government has responded,” he said.