By Max Aitchison For Daily Mail Australia
13:39 22 Jun 2023, updated 13:39 22 Jun 2023
- Diplomat is illegally squatting on land near Parliament House
- The official cannot be arrested as he has diplomatic immunity
- Anthony Albanese stripped Russia of site over security fears
A Russian diplomat is illegally squatting on land near Parliament House after representatives from Vladimir Putin’s regime were evicted from the site, it has been reported.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese rammed through legislation last week to legally strip Russia of its planned new Canberra embassy site after fears were raised it could be used to threaten national security.
But an extraordinary standoff has erupted after it emerged an unidentified Russian official has been staying in a demountable on the plot of land – and Australian cops are unable to arrest him because of diplomatic immunity.
The man was photographed by The Australian newspaper smoking a cigarette nonchalantly as helpless Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers watched on.
‘Can I help you?’ the man asked a reporter in heavily-accented English before returning inside the portable building which is mounted with multiple surveillance cameras.
He has reportedly received food deliveries in recent days.
A spokesman for Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil said the government was preparing to seize the land.
‘Make no mistake, last week the parliament took decisive action to resolve the national security challenges presented by this site,’ the spokesman said.
‘Processes are under way for the commonwealth to formalise possession of the site.’
The diplomat is trespassing because Russia’s lease on the land is no longer legally valid following last week’s legislation.
However, the legal ramifications of removing the diplomat may prove tricky.
ANU international law expert Don Rothwell told The Australian that AFP officers ‘cannot actually arrest him’.
‘They can obviously seek to engage the diplomat in dialogue and ask him to move on, but he can refuse to do so,’ Mr Rothwell said.
If such a situation transpired, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade could try to deport him but another diplomat could take his place.
Russia has already threatened retaliation over the decision last week by the Australian government to strip them of the site, accusing the nation’s leaders of ‘Russophobic hysteria’.
‘Another unfriendly display from Australia,’ said a Kremlin spokesman, according to a report published by Russia’s TASS news agency last week.
‘We will take this into account and if there are issues on the agenda that require the principle of reciprocity, we will act accordingly.’
Intelligence agencies cited threats of espionage and political interference if Russia’s second embassy was built at the Yarralumla diplomatic precinct, just a stone’s throw from Parliament House.
Russia currently occupies the former USSR embassy in the suburb of Griffith, which is farther from Parliament House than the new site.
Mr Albanese acknowledged the Russians would take action in response to the decision to strip them of the site but he said it was the right decision.
‘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 and the atrocities that have occurred that are occurring on an ongoing basis,’ he said.
The Russian Federation is expected to launch legal action over the decision.