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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Tory Shepherd and Christopher Knaus

Ukraine makes bid for Russian embassy land in Canberra after lease terminated

The gates of the existing Russian embassy in Canberra.
The Russian embassy is expected to continue to operate from its current location in Canberra’s inner-south suburb of Griffith. Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Ukraine is looking to snap up a plot of land in Canberra that is potentially available after the National Capital Authority terminated the Russian embassy’s lease.

The NCA said this week it cancelled the lease because of its “use it or lose it” policy. More than a decade since Russia’s building plans were approved, construction has failed to progress. The capital authority gave Russia 20 days to vacate the property.

Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, now wants to move on the site in Yarralumla for his country’s embassy.

Myroshnychenko said on Friday that once he received approval from his government, he would make a formal application to the NCA.

“The Ukrainian government is renting an office space in a building for the embassy, and I don’t have a residence, we’ve just rented a small townhouse,” the ambassador told ABC radio. “That would be very nice, if we could get that plot of land.”

The unfinished Russian works, the NCA said, were an eyesore. The Russian embassy in response said it was obtaining legal advice about the decision.

The NCA said it would be “inappropriate” to speculate on the process at this stage for Ukraine taking over the site.

Russia in February invaded Ukraine which is putting up fierce resistance as the war nears the six-month mark.

The NCA’s embassy decision has prompted a war of words and threats of legal action from the Russian embassy. News Corp also reported that the Russian government had attempted to bring in contractors to oversee the work, but they were blocked due to fears of links to Russian intelligence.

In fresh comments to the Guardian, a spokesperson for the embassy suggested the Australian government had continually attempted to frustrate its attempts to protect itself from Australian espionage.

“In today’s world, embassies are built to certain standards of security including protection against espionage by the receiving country. Without going into details and to put it mildly, the Australian side was not eager at all to ensure that in respect of the new building of the Russian embassy in Canberra,” the spokesperson said.

Myroshnychenko has been travelling around Australia visiting defence companies and plans to visit the trade minister, Don Farrell, at his Clare Valley winery while in South Australia.

Ukraine ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko
Ukraine ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko hopes to move on a plot of land in Canberra that may become available after Russia vacates it. Photograph: Russell Freeman/AAP

Speaking to Guardian Australia in Adelaide on Friday, he said he was looking at mine detection gear, telecommunications technology and other equipment that he hoped the Ukrainian government could buy – or be supplied by Australia.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, visited the war-torn Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, earlier this month and Australia has provided almost $400m in military assistance to the country.

“I’m visiting all these defence industry companies because they are producing some really good equipment,” Myroshnychenko said. “It could be Ukraine’s procurement directly, or the Australian government buying for Ukraine and sending it over.”

The ambassador said he was grateful for help already received and was specifically looking at mine detection devices because people were losing limbs and being killed by Russian mines.

“Russia is using many mines in cities, everywhere. Ukraine is part of the treaty banning mines but Russia is not,” he said. “I don’t know how many years we’ll need to de-mine the country.”

Human Rights Watch says Russian forces are using at least seven types of landmine in Ukraine, including some never seen before.

Myroshnychenko fled Ukraine with his wife and two children in the middle of the ambassadorial appointment process. He crossed the border to Romania on foot and stayed with friends before coming to Australia in March.

He said he had been back twice to witness the devastation in his homeland, and warned that eastern Europe would be “unliveable” if a Russian missile strikes the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is Europe’s largest nuclear plant.

Ukraine has accused Russia of using the plant as a shield as it launches attacks.

The ambassador said the “brutal” conflict had become a “war of contrition”.

“If Russia stops fighting, it’s the end of the war,” he said. “If Ukraine stops fighting, it’s the end of Ukraine.”

News Corp Australia reported this week that there were concerns the building of Russia’s planned embassy in Canberra could be used to gather intelligence.

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