Australia Seeking to Stop Russia from Building New Embassy Near Parliament for Security Reasons

AP Photo/Rod McGuire
The Australian flag flies on Parliament House, seen behind an unoccupied building on the grounds of a proposed new Russian embassy near the Australian Parliament in Canberra, Feb. 28, 2023.

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday to prevent Russia from building a new embassy near Parliament House on security grounds as tensions grow between Moscow and a major supporter of the Ukraine war effort.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the legislation would extinguish Russia’s lease on the site based on the advice of security agencies.

“The government has received very clear security advice as to the risk presented by a new Russian presence so close to Parliament House,” Albanese told reporters. “We are acting quickly to ensure the lease site does not become a formal diplomatic presence.”

Albanese said Australia’s government condemns Russia’s “illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine.”

Australia is one of the most generous providers of military hardware, training and aid to Ukraine of any country outside NATO and has escalated sanctions against Russia since the war began in February 2022.

Albanese said opposition and other lawmakers that are not aligned with the government were briefed on the legislation on Wednesday night and had agreed to pass it through both chambers Thursday. The government holds a majority in the House but not the Senate.

Albanese did not directly answer when asked if there were also security concerns about the Chinese Embassy across a street from the Russian site.

“We’re dealing with this very specifically, and it’s based upon very specific advice as well about the nature of the construction that’s proposed for this site, about the location of this site, and about the capability that would present in terms of potential interference with activity that occurs in this Parliament House,” Albanese said.

The Russian Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 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.

The National Capital Authority, which administers embassy leases, decided to terminate the Russian lease, citing that “ongoing unfinished works detract from the overall aesthetic, importance and dignity of the area reserved for diplomatic missions.”

Russia currently occupies the former USSR embassy in the suburb of Griffith, further from Parliament House than the new site.

The Russian Embassy would remain in Griffith and Australia’s Embassy would remain in Moscow, Albanese said.

Opposition defense spokesman Andrew Hastie said his party stood with the government on national security.

“Russia has not acted in good faith towards its neighbors in recent times. It continues its campaign (in Ukraine) trashing the principles of territorial and political sovereignty,” Hastie said.

“There is a trust deficit, there is a real risk to our national interest here and the security advice is that this lease must be terminated,” Hastie added.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said no embassy would be allowed on the site.

“The principal problem with the proposed second Russian Embassy in Canberra is its location. This location sits directly adjacent to Parliament House,” O’Neil said.