Russia demands US return seized mansions ahead of talks

Russia hacking row: Moscow demands US return seized mansions

  • 17 July 2017
  • From the section Europe

Russian diplomatic compound in MarylandImage copyright
EPA

Image caption

US officials say the Maryland complex doubles as a spying outpost

Russia is pressing demands that the US give it access to two diplomatic compounds seized in the US last year.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was unacceptable to set preconditions for returning the properties. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the move as “daylight robbery”.

In December the US expelled 35 Russian diplomats and shut the compounds over suspicions of meddling in US elections.

Russian and US officials are due to discuss the issue later on Monday.

US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon is hosting Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Washington.

The meeting was meant to have been held in June in St Petersburg, but was cancelled after the US government added 38 individuals and organisations to its list of sanctions over Russian activity in Ukraine.

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Media captionThe Kremlin is urging Donald Trump to lift the sanctions, as Steve Rosenberg reports

Mr Peskov suggested that there was nothing to discuss.

“We consider it absolutely unacceptable to place conditions on the return of diplomatic property, we consider that it must be returned without any conditions and talking,” he said.

Mr Lavrov said that this was not the way decent and well-brought-up people behaved.

“How can you seize property which is protected by a bilateral, inter-governmental, ratified document and, to return it, act according to the principle ‘what is mine is mine, and what is yours we’ll share’?” he said during a visit to Belarus.

Last week Russia said it was considering “specific measures” in retaliation, including the expulsion of 30 US diplomats and seizure of US state property.

Ex-President Barack Obama acted against Russia after US intelligence sources accused Russian state agents of hacking into Democratic Party computers to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.


Image copyright
AFP

Image caption

The Long Island property is surrounded by trees

Which compounds were seized?

  • The US seized a Russian diplomatic property on Maryland’s Eastern Shore – a sprawling 45-acre (18.2-hectare) retreat. The facility, acquired during the Cold War, was used by Russian diplomats for recreation, such as tennis and swimming. But it also had sophisticated communications, and US officials said it doubled as a spying outpost
  • The other diplomatic property is a New York mansion at Glen Cove, Long Island. It has 49 rooms and is similarly surrounded by woods. Like the Maryland mansion, its location is ideal for eavesdropping on US communications, US officials say

Luxury Russia resorts in US crosshairs


President Donald Trump’s team is under investigation over alleged Russian collusion during last year’s presidential campaign. The Kremlin has denied interfering in the election.

The Obama sanctions came on top of existing Western sanctions imposed because of Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict.

At the time Mr Putin refrained from tit-for-tat retaliation – unlike in previous diplomatic spats. Mr Trump had been elected to succeed President Obama just weeks before.

Russia says President Trump presented “no plan to resolve the crisis” when the issue was raised at the G20 meeting in Hamburg on 7 July.

Russia would retaliate if no compromise was reached at the meeting between Mr Ryabkov and Mr Shannon, the Russian newspaper Izvestia reported.

The BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says Mr Trump is in a Catch-22 situation, cementing his image as a Russian stooge if he returns the properties and further complicating difficult relations with Russia if he does not.