Government Closes Russian Compound

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Upper Brookville’s Norwich House inhabitants are expelled

In the wake of recent political and social upheavals of 2016, Russia has become a buzzword synonymous with a hacking scandal and a worrisome relationship between President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Following President Barack Obama’s announcement declaring a crack-down on unwarranted Russian intelligence, Long Island seemed an unlikely target of such initiatives, but the closing of the Norwich House, a historic Russian-owned mansion situated atop a 14-acre estate in Upper Brookville on Friday, Dec. 30, has proved otherwise.

Confusion marked the morning of the mandated vacation of the Norwich House, a result of Obama’s decision to expel Russian diplomats from unnamed compounds in New York and Maryland within a 24-hour period.

According to a senior White House official during a press call on Thursday, Dec. 29, “The compounds are not contiguous with the embassy. One is in Maryland and one is in New York. They are compounds that the Russian government owns and that they use for multiple purposes…intelligence, but also recreational, as well. And under the Foreign Missions Act, we have the authority to restrict their access to these properties based on their pattern of behavior.”

Shortly after, White House officials mistakenly informed the public that the stated New York location would be the Killenworth Estate in Glen Cove.

By 11 a.m., just before the noon deadline to close the compound set forth by the Obama administration, it became clear that it was in fact Upper Brookville’s Norwich House, not the Killenworth Estate, that would be the target, as federal vehicles bearing diplomatic license plates began approaching the mansion.

“I saw news reports mentioning Maryland and undisclosed locations in New York, but I wasn’t yet made aware that it would be in our village,” said Upper Brookville Mayor Elliot Conway. “On Friday I received early morning phone calls from Reuters and emails from news organizations, so I contacted the State Department and within minutes a senior official briefed me and confirmed the location.”

Conway, who lives just minutes from the Norwich House, could see helicopters flying above in the distance that Friday morning. He arrived to the scene around 12 p.m., during which he was able to speak with State Department representatives and Old Brookville police officers who were aiding in the process. According to Conway, by 12:15 p.m., everyone involved had departed.

It remains unclear exactly who was removed from the premises at the time of the shut-down, but according to Conway, “They’ve been good, quiet neighbors.” He added, “A number of people didn’t even know they were there and were rather surprised.”

Historically, the Norwich House, built in 1918 and once owned by former New York Governor Nathan Miller, harbored the Soviet’s United Nations delegation during weekend retreats. The three-story mansion, which consists of 45 rooms, was purchased in 1952 for the Soviet’s chief delegate to the U.S.

Whether or not the removal of those currently residing in the Norwich House was a necessary measure to protect American interests in the wake of cyber security issues is yet to be determined.

On Thursday, Dec. 29, Obama made the public statement, “These actions…are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior. All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions.”
Allegations blaming Russia for cyber meddling in the recent election, now proclaimed false by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, have raised serious concerns over national security.

Though Obama and U.S. intelligence agencies have declared with certainty that Russian intelligence is responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, resulting in the release of thousands of classified emails to the public, Assange claims that it is merely an attempt by the Obama administration and Democratic Party to delegitimize the impending Trump presidency.

Trump expressed support for Assange’s assertions in a tweet on Wednesday, Jan. 4, which read, “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”

It remains uncertain what the fate of the closed compounds will be following Trump’s inauguration on Friday, Jan. 20.

In response to Obama’s expulsion of Russian diplomats, Putin has yet to retaliate stating, “While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy’…We will not create any problems for U.S. diplomats. We will not expel anyone.” He continued on to explain his intentions to plan “further steps to restore Russian-U.S. relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.”

Conway is confident that the situation, now in the hands of the State Department, will be sorted out accordingly.

“We don’t know the whole story, and we may very well never know. Now, only time will tell,” he said. “If they find that nothing nefarious was going on, I expect [the Russians] will be back.”

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Nicole Lockwood is the editor of the New Hyde Park Illustrated News, Mineola American and contributing writer for Long Island Weekly.

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