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Russian court backs order evicting Polish diplomats in St. Petersburg

Russian court backs order evicting Polish diplomats in St. Petersburg
The Polish consulate building in St. Petersburg, Russia. An arbitration court ruled Wednesday that Polish diplomats must vacate the premises and pay $1.1 million in overdue rent. (Anatoly Maltsev / European Pressphoto Agency)

A Russian court on Wednesday upheld a government agency's order evicting Polish envoys from their consulate in St. Petersburg in a move Warsaw called a breach of diplomatic convention and the Kremlin said was simply a matter of overdue rent.

St. Petersburg arbitration court Judge Daria Andreyeva ruled that the eviction effort was justified and ordered the Polish government to pay arrears of $1.1 million to city authorities, according to Poland Radio's website, TheNews.pl.

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Poland and the Soviet Union had provided each other's diplomats free accommodation at their consular buildings since 1983, the radio report said. That relationship extended to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The report cited a statement from the Polish Embassy in Moscow accusing Russia of unilaterally breaking off the arrangement in violation of the Vienna Convention.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Poland was to blame for rebuffing Russian proposals "to discuss all unsettled property issues comprehensively."

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Relations between the Cold War-era allies have been strained in recent years as Poland reorients its economic and security policies to the West. Polish officials have been especially critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin since he sent in paratroopers to seize neighboring Ukraine's Crimea peninsula a year ago and is suspected of sending weapons and fighters to back pro-Russia separatists occupying other areas of eastern Ukraine.

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Poland's consulate in Russia's second-largest city has occupied two elegant buildings in the former imperial capital's historic center for 32 years. TheNews said the diplomatic premises covered more than 30,000 square feet.

An eviction notice was issued in August by the Inpredservice real estate agency, which manages the Russian government's diplomatic properties. Alexei Chernykh, an Inpredservice representative, told Russian news agencies that there was "no political context" to the arbitration court's ruling that Poland must vacate the consulate and pay arrears that have accumulated over the last three years.

The Associated Press reported from Warsaw that the Polish government opposed the court ruling as "unlawful" and insisted that the eviction order can't be enforced until the disputes over diplomatic properties in the two countries are resolved through negotiation.

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