Russia suffers legal setback in Australian embassy standoff

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Russia’s bid to build a new embassy near Australia’s parliament suffered a legal blow on Monday, with a top court backing the government’s effort to seize the land.

Australia has blocked Russia from building a new embassy in Canberra, after intelligence agencies warned it could be used as a base to spy on lawmakers.

Russia last week launched a last-minute injunction to hold on to the land, while despatching a mystery diplomat to squat there as the legal tussle played out.

But Australia’s high court ruled on Monday morning that Russia had to vacate the site, at least until the case returns to court for more detailed legal arguments.

The squatter-diplomat was seen exiting the site soon after the ruling, before being whisked away in a diplomatic vehicle.

“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.”

Russia bought the lease to the land from the Australian government in 2008, and in 2011 was granted approval to build its new embassy there.

But the Australian government announced last week it was tearing up that agreement.

Australia’s parliament passed laws specifically aimed at stopping a Russian embassy from being built on the site, which sits about 400 meters (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 said.

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

Albanese on Monday also announced a new package of military assistance for Ukraine — including 28 M113 armored 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 did not include Hawkei light armored patrol vehicles or more Bushmaster infantry vehicles — both of which Ukraine had requested.

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