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Russia hacking row: Moscow demands US return seized mansions

July 17, 2017

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US officials say the Maryland complex doubles as a spying outpost

Moscow: The Kremlin on Monday said Washington must unconditionally restore its access to diplomatic compounds in the United States ahead of high-level talks on the issue.

Russia is angry that Washington is still barring its diplomats from using two compounds in the States of New York and Maryland after then President Barack Obama in December ordered the ban on access in response to suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

“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,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

He spoke as Thomas Shannon, the U.S. State Department’s third-in-command, was set to host Russia’s deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Washington later on Monday.

Diplomats quoted by Russian news agencies said the issue of the residential complexes would be on their agenda. The talks between Mr. Shannon and Mr. Ryabkov were earlier scheduled for June but Russia cancelled them, citing new U.S. sanctions linked to the conflict in Ukraine.

Discussed with Trump

1500311985-vlaWhen President Vladimir Putin and U.S. counterpart Donald Trump met for the first time at the G20 summit in Hamburg this month, Mr. Putin raised the question “quite unambiguously”, Mr. Peskov said. He added that “we still hope our American colleagues will show political wisdom and political will”.

Mr. Obama announced the U.S. was shutting down residential complexes in December at the same time as he expelled 35 Russian diplomats for spying.

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.

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.

Russian officials welcomed the tone of the recent meeting between the two presidents.

But the political climate in Washington has only grown more toxic, with the ongoing inquiries into allegations of Russian meddling in the presidential election, and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

That makes any concessions to Moscow controversial.

Russia’s threat to expel some American diplomats if it does not get its property back would further complicate the strained relationship.

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The Long Island property is surrounded by trees

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