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Uneasy Locations: The Russian Embassy Site in Canberra

They think we are mugs – and it’s insulting. It’s all fine for politicians to be swimming, swerving and tossing about in the goo of paranoia that is surveillance, chatting to the ghost called foreign interference; but to expect the rest of the citizenry to be morons is rather poor form. But the formula has always been such: We terrify you; you vote us in, and we increase the budget of the national security state.

Regarding the business of the Russian embassy site in Canberra, this is all the more stunning. Australia’s parliamentarians rarely pass bills and motions at such speed, but the measure to ensure that the Russian embassy would not have a bit of real estate 500 metres from the people’s assembly was odd, at best. On June 15, legislation was whizzed through, effectively extinguishing Russia’s lease.

It was also prompted by a rather bruising matter: the Russians had already been triumphant in the Federal Court. They had been granted the lease for the Yarralumla site in December 2008 by the National Capital Authority. But the 99-year lease was cancelled by the same body on the basis that “ongoing unfinished works detract from the overall aesthetic, importance, and dignity of the area reserved for diplomatic missions.”

Russia duly challenged the cancellation and won. In May, the court found in its favour, negating the cancellation of the lease. This seemed to have a curiously unifying effect in Parliament: agents of the Kremlin would be a mere stone’s throw away from the elected chamber.

Members of the Albanese government were tediously, predictably, on message, claiming that their intelligence services were all cognisant of a threat no one else could possibly take seriously. According to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the government had “received very clear security advice as to the risk presented by a Russian presence close to Parliament House.” The whole parliamentary measure had taken place “to ensure the lease site does not become a formal diplomatic presence.”

 

 

The cabinet’s most eager of beavers, Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil, affirmed the Prime Minister’s concerns. “The principal problem with the proposed second Russian embassy in Canberra is its location,” she suggested. “The government has received clear national security advice that this would be a threat to our national security and that is why the government is acting decisively to bring this longstanding matter to a close.”

This entire comic episode also led Albanese to anticipate Russian stroppiness and reference to precedents in international law. This prompted the remark that Russia was not “in a position to talk about international law, given their rejection of it so consistently and so brazenly with their invasion of Ukraine.”

Over stiffening, proud vodkas at the eventual Russian embassy site, Australian officials will be able to do a merry jig and say that they have been tearing strips off international law for decades. From race relations to illegal invasions, the good guys have been wondrously bad. Remember Iraq in 2003, when we deviously and cowardly subverted the United Nations Charter and aided the destruction of a sovereign country? (Oh, the laughter!) Or those negotiations with an impoverished East Timor over its access to natural resources? (We almost got away with bugging the negotiators – but for those insufferable whistleblowers well read in international law and principle!)

Such officials will also be able to recall the efforts of Australian intelligence agents to undermine international law during the Cold War, playing a starring role in overthrowing Chile’s democratically elected Allende government in the 1970s, at the very same time the Central Intelligence Agency was conferencing on how to get rid of that pesky Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. It was beautifully, if diabolically symmetrical.

Saliently stunning in this splutter of rage from Australia’s politicians is that any embassy position near Parliament House, notably from Russia, would make any difference at all. Two issues spring to mind.

The first is that Australia’s all commanding superior, the US government, tends to privilege technology to the point of childish obsession. For all their technological genius in specific, idiosyncratic areas, the Russians have tended towards the craft, cut and cultivation of human contacts in intelligence. The embassy’s proximity would not matter one jot.

The other aspect of the embassy debate is cringingly odd. Why bother listening to anything Australia’s Parliament has to say that might influence the events of the world? Vassal states are poor fare in the marketplace of intelligence and policy; their returns for any foreign power are junk food quality, limp cold chips and hardly worth bothering about. (Recently, the politicisation of sexual assault is all the rage – there is, what might be politely called in diplomatic channels, a woman problem in the great chambers of the capital.)

The true clearance stores for Australian intelligence lie in the bowels of the US State Department, the Pentagon and the National Security Agency. Yes, the fallback position is always that Australia is a “Five Eyes” member in the sacred Anglophone intelligence sharing agreement that makes it a target. But why go for the inferior imitation if you can get the original?

 

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6 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    Given the failures of the various US ”intelligence” agencies: the Yangtze Incident used to initiate the Vietnam War (lost by America et al); WMDs – Words of Mass Deception used to invade Iraq then lose the war; and the repeated military losses by the government of the USA (United States of Apartheid), a political sceptic could reasonably conclude that the reason for those military excursions lies more in providing a ”black hole” market opportunity for the NE military industrial complex producing military equipment & ammunition rather than any care about the invaded population of principles of much vaunted democracy.

    Any nation having America as an ally certainly has no need for any other enemies.

  2. ajogrady

    “China places the country of China dangerously close to US and Australian warship and US and Australian military fighter jets.
    This statement would seem ridiculous if it were not patently true.
    Truth and reason are treason in the eyes of the US empire of flunky allies and their Western media sycophants. Lies, distortion and deception plus absurdity and insanity are the hallmark of the fading US hegemony as Albanese Labor dutifully follow the US down the toilet of irrelevance on the world stage.

    Ukraine: Taking leave of our senses

    Killing the story – Bakhmut, Nick Cohen, Kakhovka, Nord Stream and Piers Morgan

    When does news analysis become opinion?

  3. Douglas Pritchard

    So we have been told to Eliminate Russia from our culture, and like obedient dogs we need to find a reason.
    When we have to resort to proximity to Parliament House, and the prospect of a security threat , then we are most definitely behind the times.
    Its 2023 and semaphore signals are now redundant, for heavens sake.
    Such pronouncements do make us a laughing stock on the world stage.
    Personally I see Pine Gap as a far greater “security threat”, and its a long, long, way from our entertainment centre in Canberra.

  4. Canguro

    Yes indeedy, ajogrady. Fancy the Chinese being silly enough to site Zhong Guo so close to such a strategically important isle such as Taiwan! You’d think that after 5,000 years of trying to get their act together they’d know better, but no… they’re obviously incompetent not to mention incautious given the well-known willingness of the World Police to bristle when little isle-like chunks of geography attract the attention of those who don’t possess the requisite deeds of possession & ownership – notwithstanding the bare fact that the governing body of the World Police absolve themselves from those stated ownership requirements and assign to themselves the right to claim whatever chunks of global territory they determine they can acquire without too much trouble, whether it be the southwestern regions of their home country, a phenomenon known as the Mexican-American wars of 1846-48, or the colonisation of Hawaii, or the distinctly slippery & dodgy business behind the transference of ‘ownership’ of Guam, Puerto Rico & the Philippines from Spain to themselves, along with a few other flyspecks like the US Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

    Slow learners, it seems, and utterly paradoxical for a culture that can boast of five millennia of existence, that they’re now broadsided by this upstart gang of barbarians who’ve assigned themselves the role of ‘World Police’.

  5. Claudio Pompili

    Dear Binoy, you’ve outdone yourself…I nearly fell over laughing when I heard the news and Albo’s weasely voice proclaim ‘national security’ as the reason.

    Albo and his clowns make me laugh in a slightly different way from ScoMo’s clowns but I suppose it doesn’t matter since there is so little difference.

  6. Truth Teller

    Once I finished laughing at this Federal Gov’t media release, and realised it wasn’t some sort of King’s Birthday prank I did a bit of geographical research.

    Given that proximity to Aus Parliament House (APH) seems to be the new yardstick for the security/espionage fraternity, I had a look at the location of the embassy of our supposed biggest security risk (not a view I hold), the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Using some mapping tools I discovered the address of the PRC Embassy is 15 Coronation Drive Yarralumla. As the crow flies, it is approx 450 metres from the front door of APH.

    The address of the vacant block of land for the potential Russian Embassy is 33 Forster Cres Yarralumla. As the crow flies this address is about 500 metres from the front door of APH. So 50 metres further away than the PRC Embassy.

    So, the ASIO types are apparently far more threatened by the presence of an empty block of land for being too close to APH than they are by the presence of an actual PRC Embassy building that is 50 metres closer????

    When will we wake up to the fallacy of using “National Security” as an excuse for ever more ridiculous Legislation?

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