Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman is calling on the U.S. government to expel Russian diplomats from the Killenworth estate in Glen Cove, although the State Department says the property is a United Nations residence that is outside federal jurisdiction.
Blakeman, a Republican, said Democratic President Joe Biden should order the expulsion of the diplomats and the closure of the facility as Russia continues its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Blakeman and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) held a news conference in front of the estate's gated entrance on Dosoris Lane on Saturday.
"President Biden, expel these Russians from Nassau County. We don’t need them here, and let’s get this property back on the tax rolls, so the people of Nassau County and Glen Cove don’t have to finance thugs and dictators and people who invade innocent countries," Blakeman said at the news conference.
A U.S. Department of State spokesperson said in an email this week that the 26,459-square-foot Killenworth mansion, purchased by the Soviet Union in 1946, "is not under the Department’s custodial protection. It remains registered as an active UN Mission residence."
Farhan Haq, a spokesman for the Office of the UN Secretary-General, told Newsday on Friday in an email: "I can’t speak to US actions, since I don’t speak for the US government. However, there is a Host Country agreement with the U.S., by which the U.S. as host country does allow other countries to maintain their diplomatic missions to the UN."
Glen Cove Mayor Pamela Panzenbeck said in an email to Newsday on Tuesday the Russians continue to use the Killenworth property.
"My understanding is that they use it for the U.N. Ambassador," Panzenbeck wrote. "The Russian compound is still in use in Glen Cove. I do not know how many people live there or anything else about it but they are there."
The Glen Cove Police Department has added extra patrols around the compound as a "precautionary" measure, Panzenbeck said, although there have been "no threats."
The Russian Mission to the United Nations did not respond to queries for comment this week.
Blakeman told Newsday on Friday the United States "has the right to expel any diplomat even a United Nations diplomat," although he offered no legal basis for his argument.
"It's very secretive what's going on there," he said of the Killenworth estate. "I have no idea what's going on there; I hope our State Department knows what's going on there."
Juliette Passer, an attorney specializing in international law who is an adjunct professor of political science at Stony Brook University, said because the Killenworth property is under the jurisdiction of the UN, "technically we cannot close [it] or physically put up the bars."
Passer continued, "If they are technically within the UN, there is special jurisdiction that is granted to the UN missions around the world."
However, she said situations can vary on a "case by case" basis.
"In the past, countries have played strange games," Passer told Newsday.
"Diplomats have certain privileges and immunity ... if they are physically located" in the UN building in Manhattan, Passer said. " ... The minute they get out of there to commute to work or go to the airport, they're no longer protected."
In 2016, the administration of former President Barack Obama closed two Russian "recreational compounds" in the United States, including a 14-acre property in Upper Brookville known as Norwich House.
Julian Ku, the Maurice A. Deane Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at Hofstra University Law School, said in an email Friday, "as far as I understand it, the property in Brookville and the property in Glen Cove are both residences related to Russia’s UN Mission ... So I think, as a legal matter, the US government can expel those diplomats in the same way it expelled the diplomats from Brookville."
Ku noted Russia "has objected to the way it was expelled from the Brookville residence and claimed the seizure violated US treaty obligations. So the US may not want to have more disputes with Russia and other UN members over this kind of expulsion."
Russia also "still has a right to have a representative at the UN, and the US cannot act in ways that make it impossible for Russia to maintain its representation at the UN [under its treaty obligations to the UN]," Ku wrote.
"I don’t know if the Glen Cove residence is the only residence for the Russians at the Mission, but the State Department would have to allow them to live somewhere, if not in Glen Cove," Ku said.
A State Department spokesperson said this week Norwich House remained "closed, and entry or access to the property will be granted only with permission of the Department of State."
With Lorena Mongelli