Sunday 16 December 2018

Russia has nothing to hide with Dublin embassy plans - just don't ask if Big Brother is watching

Ambassador Yury Filatov speaks to the media at the Russian Embassy on Orwell Road, Dublin. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Ambassador Yury Filatov speaks to the media at the Russian Embassy on Orwell Road, Dublin. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It was George Orwell who first warned in 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' that "Big Brother is watching you".

The author was well versed in Russian affairs - but any suggestions the former Soviet Union might in fact be 'big brother' are wholly dismissed.

At least that was the purpose of an invitation to Orwell Road in Rathgar yesterday where the Ambassador to Ireland Yury Filatov tried to reassure journalists his country has nothing to hide.

Talk of spy operations in Dublin was "fake news" and planned building works at the large embassy complex were merely so his staff no longer have to work in cramped conditions.

The visit began with a warning from Mr Filatov's Second Secretary Vasily Velichkin.

"Inside our territory" - otherwise known as the gate - "remember there are people and they are private citizens.

"Maybe they do not want to get shot by … photograph."

It was hard to tell if the long pause was for effect or not.

Mr Velichkin nodded at the people arriving to the consular office with their passports, adding: "They are not afraid. They want to go to Russia."

To be fair, the embassy has plenty of room to extend on the large site which currently houses a main residence/office, a tennis court, clubhouse, car park, and storage buildings.

The buildings are between 50 and 80 years old. As a result, the ambassador has secured planning permission to extend the main compound to five times its current size.

"It'll be huge. Let's say it'll be huge," Mr Velichkin enthused. Last weekend the 'Sunday Times' reported that the work was completed, sparking the ire of the Russians.

Common sense points to bad fact-checking but the ambassador argued that it's part of a conspiracy.

"Did you find an electric substation here?" he asked as we stood outside in the spitting rain.

The "nothing to hide" tour didn't stretch inside any of the buildings. No tea or vodka was offered.

A reporter pointed to a disproportionately large satellite dish, asking for its purpose. "That's an antenna, as far as I understand, for receiving TV signal," came the reply from Mr Velichkin.

According to the ambassador, any mention of potential spy activities here was "just part of the whole hype around the Skripal affair in Great Britain".

"The overall effort is to launch a massive propaganda campaign against Russia," he said, adding the UK government expulsion of diplomats was an "absurd, hostile action".

So could the ambassador confirm Russia's SVR foreign intelligence service had not been conducting covert operations on Irish soil.

He only answered questions that are "appropriate"; that wasn't.

"If there are issue for the Irish Government with us, we have a way to discuss things. We have normal channels of communication," Mr Filatov said.

"We enjoy stable, open and constructive dialogue with the Irish Government.

"If there are issues, there are ways to discuss them, other than talking to you guys - with all due respect."

Is Russia watching us? Maybe Orwell had the answer: "Myths which are believed in tend to become true."

Irish Independent

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