U.S. closes pair of Rus­sian com­pounds, used as “sum­mer cot­tages” by diplo­mats

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Brian Witte and Michael Balsamo

cen­tre­ville, md.» Lux­ury re­treats in New York and Mary­land where Rus­sian diplo­mats have gone for decades to play tennis, sail and swim were shut down by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion Fri­day in re­tal­i­a­tion for Moscow’s cy­ber-med­dling in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

The U.S. said the two Cold War-era es­tates were be­ing used for in­tel­li­gence ac­tiv­i­ties.

About a half-hour be­fore the noon evic­tion dead­line, car­a­vans of diplo­matic ve­hi­cles, some car­ry­ing boxes, left both Rus­sian com­pounds un­der the watch of U.S. State De­part­ment agents.

The 45-acre Mary­land re­treat boasts a brick man­sion along the Cor­sica River in the bu­colic East­ern Shore re­gion. It was bought by the Soviet Union in 1972 and served as a get­away for its diplo­mats in nearby Wash­ing­ton.

In New York, Rus­sian diplo­matic staff mem­bers were evicted from a man­sion on Long Is­land’s Gold Coast. The es­tate, once called Elm­croft, is in the town of Oys­ter Bay and was pur­chased by the Sovi­ets in 1952.

Rus­sian U.N. Am­bas­sador Vi­taly Churkin told re­porters at U.N. head­quar­ters that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­stroy­ing hol­i­day fun for the chil­dren of Rus­sian diplo­mats who va­ca­tion at the two re­treats dur­ing their New Year’s break.

“I think it’s quite scan­dalous that they chose to go after our kids,” Churkin said. He added: “Here go their fam­ily val­ues.”

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced the shut­down Thurs­day as part of a raft of sanc­tions that in­cluded the ex­pul­sion of 35 Rus­sians who the U.S. said were spies op­er­at­ing un­der diplo­matic cover.

Neigh­bors of both com­pounds de­scribed gen­er­ally friendly re­la­tions with the diplo­mats and their fam­i­lies.

“We co­ex­ist with these peo­ple peace­fully,” said Ali­son Davis, who lives near the Mary­land re­treat. “It’s ba­si­cally their sum­mer cot­tage, but we see the diplo­mat tags driv­ing here all the time, very friendly. We see them bik­ing, say hello.”

Still, she said, “They kind of keep to them­selves.”

She said the com­pound has a pri­vate beach and was typ­i­cally used for a sail­ing re­gatta dur­ing the La­bor Day week­end.

An As­so­ci­ated Press story from 1992 said the com­pound had four tennis courts, a swim­ming pool and a soc­cer field. A camp was held there for Rus­sian chil­dren dur­ing the sum­mer and for two weeks each Christ­mas.

The story said that the brick man­sion had been con­verted into 12 apart­ments and a dozen cot­tages, each with four apart­ments, and that the com­pound could accommodate 40 fam­i­lies at a time.

Penny Hallman, 68, whose home abuts the es­tate, called the diplo­mats “won­der­ful neigh­bors.”

“They brought a bot­tle of vodka and choco­lates to wish us a Merry Christ­mas,” she said. “It’s mostly a so­cial club, a va­ca­tion spot.”

A short drive away, Rus­sian diplo­mats stay at an­other grand Gold Coast es­tate, the Kil­len­worth man­sion. Glen Cove Mayor Reg­gie Spinello said Kil­len­worth was not be­ing closed down by the gov­ern­ment.

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