Australia’s prime minister has described a Russian diplomat squatting on land near the country’s parliament as “a bloke standing in the cold on a bit of grass in Canberra” who poses “no threat” to security.
The apparent stand-off comes after Australia last week passed emergency legislation blocking Russia from building a new embassy on the site on security grounds, citing a spying risk.
An unidentified Russian diplomat has been pictured living in a portable building on the land.
Australian Federal Police have been monitoring the man but have been unable to arrest him because he has diplomatic immunity.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the contested site of the proposed Russian embassy was secure.
He told a news conference: “Australia will stand up for our values and we will stand up for our national security, and a bloke standing in the cold on a bit of grass in Canberra is not a threat to our national security.
“The site is secure and we are comfortable with our position.”
The Russian embassy in Canberra declined to comment.
Earlier this week, Moscow barred 48 Australians from entering Russia, in what it said was retaliation for Australia’s own long-running sanctions regime against the country.
The Kremlin last week accused Australia of “Russophobic hysteria” for cancelling the lease, which follows a deterioration in relations since the Ukraine war began last year.
The Russian embassy in Australia has appealed to the supreme court to uphold the lease.
Russia says it has spent millions on the site since it was granted the lease in 2008.
Completed works include fencing and a single perimeter building that was to be part of a planned complex of several buildings.
However, Mr Albanese said intelligence services had given “very clear security advice” on the move to terminate Russia’s lease for the land.