Australia’s highest court has dismissed Russia’s attempt to retain a plot of land in Canberra, the country’s capital. There Russia planned to construct a new embassy in Australia. The Australian government cancelled Russia’s lease in mid-June, citing national security reasons, leading to a legal challenge.
Security experts had expressed concerns over the proposed embassy’s location, as it would have been a mere 400 meters (0.25 miles) away from the Australian Parliament, raising the risk of potential espionage activities. Following the court ruling, a Russian diplomat, who had been protesting near the site, departed in an embassy vehicle.
Russia acquired the lease for the new site in 2008 and obtained approval for embassy construction in 2011. However, on June 15 of this year, Australia’s parliament expedited the passing of new legislation specifically aimed at terminating the lease. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese explained that intelligence agencies had provided “very clear security advice” regarding the risks associated with a new Russian presence in such proximity to Parliament House.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov characterized Australia’s decision to revoke the lease as another instance of “Russophobic hysteria” prevalent in Western countries. In its court complaint, Russia claimed to have already invested AUD 8.2 million (£4.3 million, $5.5 million) in the construction, which had progressed slowly. Russia argued that the integrity of the partially completed building would be compromised if Australia reclaimed the land.
High Court Deems Russia’s Legal Arguments Unconvincing
However, Australia’s High Court deemed Russia’s legal challenge as “weak” and “difficult to comprehend.” Prime Minister Albanese stated last week that he anticipated some backlash from Russia but remained unconcerned about the legal dispute, noting, “Russia hasn’t been real good at the law lately. We don’t expect Russia to be in a position to talk about international law given their rejection of it so consistently and so brazenly with their invasion of Ukraine.”
The court’s decision signifies a victory for Australia’s national security concerns, as the proposed proximity of the Russian embassy to the Parliament posed a potential threat. By safeguarding its legislative institutions, Australia aims to uphold its commitment to international security standards.