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Russian embassy in Canberra scrapped by Australian government: Spying fears

Australia scraps new plans for Russian embassy over espionage fears that would spark major diplomatic row that will infuriate Vladimir Putin

  • New Russian embassy planned for 14 years at Yarralumla site, in Canberra
  • Embassy demolished after federal government agency canceled Russia’s lease
  • Decision made on contractual grounds but speculation over security issues

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Plans to build a new Russian embassy near the parliament building have been scuttled with speculation that a espionage scandal may have been averted.

The National Capital Authority, the federal government agency responsible for planning in parts of Canberra, has terminated the Russian lease on the site due to lack of construction activity over the 14-year project.

Russia had attempted to build a new embassy in the Canberra suburb of Yarralumla, where most of the diplomatic missions are based, to replace their existing location in the nearby suburb of Griffith.

The embassy had been trying to bring in its own Russian contractors since 2020, claiming they should monitor the work of Australian builders.

But the Interior Ministry denied the contractors entry, suspecting they were members of the Russian Federal Security Service involved in a security operation in Canberra.

Plans to build a new Russian embassy in Canberra have been scuttled amid speculation about a possible espionage scandal amid tensions over Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine.

Plans to build a new Russian embassy in Canberra have been scuttled amid speculation about a possible espionage scandal amid tensions over Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Russia has been trying to bring in its own Russian contractors since 2020, claiming to monitor the work of Australian builders at the new embassy.  Australia rejected the request.  In the photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia has been trying to bring in its own Russian contractors since 2020, claiming to monitor the work of Australian builders at the new embassy.  Australia rejected the request.  In the photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russia has been trying to bring in its own Russian contractors since 2020, claiming to monitor the work of Australian builders at the new embassy. Australia rejected the request. In the photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin

“You can deduce from this that there are members of the Russian security services among them who would ensure the security of the building,” said a source the Australian.

Obviously, it would have been preferable to refuse the new Russian embassy for contractual reasons rather than security reasons.

The Australian ruling comes after government sanctions against more than 500 Russian individuals and organizations as a result of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The new Russian embassy was located near Parliament House and also near the US, British, Canadian and South African embassies.

The National Capital Authority, which has scrapped Russia's lease in Yarralumla, said the decision would not affect the existing embassy in Canberra's suburb of Griffith.

The National Capital Authority, which has scrapped Russia's lease in Yarralumla, said the decision would not affect the existing embassy in Canberra's suburb of Griffith.

The National Capital Authority, which has scrapped Russia’s lease in Yarralumla, said the decision would not affect the existing embassy in Canberra’s suburb of Griffith.

Sally Barnes, chief executive of the NCA, said it had been many years since the new site was built, where major parts have not yet been completed.

“The block is in a prime location in central Canberra, close to Lake Burley Griffin and the Australian Parliament Building,” she said in a statement.

“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.”

Russia had received the lease for the site in 2008 and received construction approval in 2011.

As part of the lease, Russia had agreed to complete the new embassy within three years.

“While initial works have begun, the block in question has stood as a construction site of unfinished construction for many years,” said Ms Barnes.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pictured in Ukraine in July seeing damage caused by Russian shelling

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pictured in Ukraine in July seeing damage caused by Russian shelling

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese pictured in Ukraine in July seeing damage caused by Russian shelling

“With limited blocks available for diplomatic purposes, the NCA supports a policy to use it or lose it unless a country can demonstrate the willingness and ability to develop the site.”

The authority said the decision to end the lease of the Yarralumla site had no impact on the existing embassy.

Russia could reapply for the site but has been given 20 days to clear the Yarralumla site.

It will be returned to land available for diplomatic use.

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