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Upper Brookville Russian mission unlikely to reopen soon, experts say

Obama ordered the 14-acre estate closed in retaliation for alleged Russian influence in the 2016 election and alleged harassment of U.S. diplomats in Russia.

The Upper Brookville mansion that housed the government

The Upper Brookville mansion that housed the government Russian mission, shown Dec. 31, 2016. Photo Credit: Kevin Coughlin/AllislandAerial.c/Kevin Coughlin/AllislandAerial.com

Two years after President Barack Obama ordered the closure of the sprawling Russian government mission in Upper Brookville, experts say there's unlikely to be any movement soon to allow diplomats to return to the century-old 18,929-square-foot mansion.

Obama closed the mission in retaliation for alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged harassment of U.S. diplomats in Russia. The gate to the 14-acre estate remains chained and padlocked. 

The Russian foreign ministry said in an August statement that every two weeks it uses “diplomatic channels” to request access to the estate — and several other shuttered Russian government properties around the United States — for “holding one-off protocol events” and “with the aim of preventing the failure of operating systems,” according to an unofficial British Broadcasting Company translation of the statement.

“The U.S. Department of State has systematically refused to provide such access,” the statement said.

The Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests for comment. A State Department spokesman said in an email that “the Department does not comment publicly on diplomatic communications.”

Russia described the mission as a residence for members of the country's United Nations delegation and a site for official events

While Obama ordered the closure, President Donald Trump cannot reopen it without congressional approval. After reports that the Trump administration was working toward returning the estate to Russia, Congress last year approved a law that requires congressional review of any such plan.

Timothy Frye, the Marshall D. Shulman professor of post-Soviet foreign policy at Columbia University, said reopening the mission would be part of “a first move in a warming of relations . . . a low-cost signal that relations are normalizing. But relations are anything but normal at this time."

“Given the real opposition to improving relations with Russia, until we figure out what happened in 2016 and beyond, it’s hard to see that the Congress will make any moves to improve relations without some substantial moves by the Kremlin to show that they’re also serious about improving relations,” Frye said.

Instead, Russia has engaged in “extraordinarily provocative” actions, such as seizing Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 Ukrainian sailors last month, and allegedly poisoning a former Russian spy in England, said Paul Fritz, an associate professor of political science at Hofstra University and an expert on international relations.

When the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives in January, they likely will reopen investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the elections and any potential Trump campaign collusion, Fritz said.

“I think that’s going to keep pressure on the White House to avoid doing anything that would appear conciliatory to Russia,” he said.

For now, “the State Department remains in control of the property," Upper Brookville Mayor Elliot Conway said.

The mission, open or closed, has not created any issues in the community, he noted.

“They’ve been good neighbors,” Conway said.

RUSSIAN MISSION IN UPPER BROOKVILLE

  • Built in 1918
  • Includes 36 rooms, 15 bathrooms and an in-ground pool, according to Nassau assessment records
  • Market value, with the surrounding 14 acres of the estate, of $9,350,400
  • Purchased by the Soviet Union in 1952 to house the Soviet delegate to the United Nations
  • Once owned by New York Gov. Nathan Miller

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