Two 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 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. Reports indicate 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 was destroying holiday fun for the children of Russian diplomats.
“I think it’s quite scandalous that they chose to throw out our kids,” he said. “They know full well that those two facilities they mentioned, they are vacation facilities for our kids and this is Christmas, and this is vacation time for our schools. This is the time when the kids go to those facilities. So to close our access to them just while those holidays were starting, to me was rather silly.”
President Barack Obama announced the step 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.
On Thursday, people who identified themselves as State Department employees asked reporters to leave when they approached the Maryland property.
“We coexist with these people peacefully,” said Alison Davis, who lives nearby. “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, local residents don’t “really have any interactions with them. They kind of keep to themselves.”
She said the compound has a private beach and was typically used for a sailing regatta during the end-of-summer Labor Day weekend.
An Associated Press story from 1992 about the sprawling property said at the time that the brick mansion had been converted into 12 apartments and a dozen cottages, each with four apartments. In total, the compound can accommodate 40 families at a time, according to that report.
That report also said that the property then boasted four lighted tennis courts, a swimming pool and a soccer field and that a camp was held there for Russian children during the summer and for two weeks each Christmas.
Russia maintains two weekend retreats for its U.N. diplomats about an hour’s drive outside New York City, where the United Nations has its high-rise headquarters.
One of them, Elmcroft, was built on a part of Long Island made famous in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel “The Great Gatsby.”
Its main house originally had 27 rooms and 11 baths and was constructed for an executive at a Brooklyn company that made heavy machinery and torpedoes. Later it became the home of a former New York governor, Nathan Miller.
Satellite photography shows that the grounds today include a tennis court, gardens, a soccer field and another large, modern building.
“They’ve been quiet neighbors,” said Elliot Conway, mayor of Upper Brookville, the village in Oyster Bay where the estate is situated.
A short drive away, Russian diplomats stay at another grand Gold Coast estate, the Killenworth mansion, not far from the city of Glen Cove. It, too, was bought during the Cold War.
Glen Cove Mayor Reggie Spinello said Friday that Killenworth was not being closed down by the government.
Both Long Island properties were the subject of long-running property-tax battles between the Russian government and local officials.
Those disputes have since been resolved, and for years Oyster Bay has waived parking and beach fees for Russia’s U.N. diplomats as a goodwill gesture.