Australia blocks construction of new Russian embassy
Canberra has passed legislation banning Russia from building a new embassy near parliament over security concerns
Australia on Thursday passed legislation aimed at preventing Russia from building an embassy near the country's parliament in Canberra.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the legislation would extinguish Russia's lease on the site based on the advice of security agencies. The bill was passed in both chambers of parliament less than two hours after being introduced.
The Australian government decided to act after Russia won a Federal Court case last month that prevented its eviction from the site now under construction.
The lease was canceled by local Canberra authorities on the basis of a lack of building activity since it was given the lease in the diplomatic precinct of Yarralumla in 2008.
Under the lease conditions, Russia had agreed to complete construction within three years, but the embassy remains partially built.
Risk of Russian interference
"We are acting quickly to ensure the lease site does not become a formal diplomatic presence," Albanese said in a press conference before the legislation was introduced, adding that the decision "is one taken in the national security interests of Australia."
"The government has received very clear security advice as to the risk presented by a new Russian presence so close to Parliament House," Albanese continued, including "the capability that the site would present in terms of potential interference with activity that occurs in this Parliament House."
Home Affairs Minister Claire O'Neil said the land in question "is literally directly next to the Parliament." He said no embassy would be allowed on the site.
Waiting for Moscow's reaction
Russia currently occupies the former USSR embassy in the suburb of Griffith, further from Parliament House than the new site.
Albanese clarified that Moscow would continue to have a presence in Australia "at its existing premises in Griffith," just as Australia's Embassy would remain in Moscow.
The Australian PM said: "We don't expect that Russia's in a position to talk about international law, given their rejection of it so consistently and so brazenly with their invasion of Ukraine," he said.
Australia is one of the largest non-NATO contributors to the West's support for Ukraine and has been supplying aid, ammunition and defense equipment while it has banned exports of alumina and aluminium ores, including bauxite, to Russia.