14 September 2022

NCA holds off on clearing out Yarralumla embassy site as Russians prepare legal action

| Lottie Twyford
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Vacant block

The new Russian embassy was set to be built off Adelaide Avenue in Yarralumla. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

The National Capital Authority, which gave the Russian Federation until Wednesday (14 September) to clear out of its unfinished Yarralumla embassy site, has ultimately shied away from enforcing that deadline.

With the threat of legal action by the Russians hanging over its head, the NCA has confirmed that “both parties have agreed to maintain current day-to-day management arrangements at the site in the short term”.

The Russian Federation has signalled its intention to commence legal proceedings in relation to the National Capital Authority’s termination of their lease in Yarralumla.”

The NCA would not comment further given the ongoing “intended legal process”.

Ukrainian protesters

Protesters outside the Russian Embassy on Canberra Avenue in February this year. Photo: Region.

A spokesperson for the Russian Embassy confirmed it was taking legal action, but he refrained from further commenting.

Its operations continue as usual from the Canberra Avenue site.

Ostensibly, the NCA terminated the Russians’ lease after it failed to complete construction on the site in line with an agreed-upon deadline. That lease was granted in 2008, with works approvals granted in 2011 and work due to be completed within three years.

Ultimately, the termination notice was not issued until Wednesday, 17 August 2022, giving the Russians 20 days to clear out under a “use it or lose it” policy.

NCA chief executive Sally Barnes said the Yarralumla site was a premium one, and despite initial works having begun, the block had been a building site for many years.

“Ongoing unfinished works detract from the overall aesthetic, importance and dignity of the area reserved for diplomatic missions and foreign representation in the National Capital,” she said.

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This timing has raised eyebrows given the current geopolitical situation, although the planning authority has repeatedly rejected any assertions of political bias.

The Russian Embassy last month said it was “puzzling” the NCA had chosen to terminate the lease at this point, an action it described as an “unprecedented and highly unwelcome move”.

It conceded the project had encountered “multiple problems and delays”, but these had been dealt with as a “matter of constructive and frank consultations between the Embassy and the NCA”.

“It is really puzzling why the NCA chose to terminate the lease now that the construction process at Yarralumla site has been steadily going on uninterrupted for the last two-plus years, with results already very much visible and prospects rather clear.”

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The Ukrainian Ambassador to Australia, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, has since indicated his interest in the site to establish a closer relationship between the two countries.

“If the Ukrainian Government is interested, I’m happy to submit a request to the Australian Government for [the lease],” he told Region.

“We have been considering other plots for an embassy, which may not be as attractive because of their location … but this location is excellent if we get the green light to apply.”

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