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Russia’s ‘squatter’ diplomat moves on after Australian court ruling

(AFP)

A mystery Russian diplomat ended his short-lived solo defiance of the Australian government Monday after a top court forced him to stop squatting on the site of a planned embassy.

Russia has been building a new embassy on a rubble-strewn plot near Australia’s parliament but was ordered to down tools after intelligence officials said the project posed a threat to national security.

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Australia’s attempts to seize the land quickly were thwarted by a middle-aged Russian diplomat, who was despatched on Friday to squat inside a small security shed on the site.

The unlikely standoff was brought to an end on Monday when Australia’s High Court backed the government’s attempts to evict Russia from the site.

“The court has made clear that there is no legal basis for a Russian presence to continue on the site at this time,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters. 

“We expect the Russian Federation to act in accordance with the court’s ruling.” 

The squatter-diplomat moved out soon after the High Court handed down its ruling, ignoring questions from journalists as he was whisked away in a car with diplomatic plates. 

He faced frigid temperatures during his brief occupation, entertaining himself with television, snacking on vegetable chips, and sporadically stepping out into the cold to smoke cigarettes.

– Legal battle –

Australia’s parliament last week passed laws specifically aimed at stopping a Russian embassy from being built on the site, which sits about 400 metres (440 yards) from the parliamentary precinct. 

“The government has received very clear security advice as to the risk posed by a new Russian presence so close to Parliament House,” Albanese recently told reporters. 

“We are acting quickly to ensure the lease site does not become a formal diplomatic presence.” 

Russia challenged the legislation in the high court and has accused Australia of “Russophobic hysteria”. 

High Court Justice Jayne Jagot ordered the Russian Federation to vacate the site until a proper hearing can be arranged. 

The Russian embassy in Australia had confirmed in a statement that its “employees” were staying at the site “to ensure the safety” of its building. 

Albanese also announced on Monday Australia’s latest package of military assistance for Ukraine — including 28 M113 armoured personnel carriers and an undisclosed amount of 105mm howitzer rounds.  

“We support international efforts to ensure Putin’s aggression fails and that Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity prevails,” Albanese said.

The package is worth US$74 million. 

It does not include Hawkei light armoured patrol vehicles or more Bushmaster infantry vehicles — both of which Ukraine had requested.

Ukraine has also asked Australia about the condition of dozens of retired F-18 fighter jets. There was no mention of the jets in the latest package.

Yoann Cambefort, with Steve Trask in Sydney

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