Poland seizes Russian high school building in Warsaw

WARSAW: Poland on Saturday said it had seized a high school building near Moscow’s embassy in Warsaw meant for the children of diplomats, a move the Russian envoy called “illegal”.

The spat over the 1970s multi-storey building has been going on for a year.

“This building belongs to the Warsaw City Hall,“ Polish foreign ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina told AFP, adding that the move followed a bailiff’s order.

The spokesman for the municipality was unavailable for comment.

Poland says there is a huge disparity in the number of diplomatic buildings each had in the other country.

“We regard this as yet another hostile act by the Polish authorities and a blatant violation of the Vienna Convention of 1961,“ Russia’s foreign ministry said.

The ministry promised a “harsh reaction and consequences for Polish authorities and Poland’s interests in Russia”.

Moscow’s envoy, Sergei Andreyev, also denounced Poland’s intervention as an “illegal” intrusion on a diplomatic facility, saying teachers and staff lived on the building’s grounds.

The school will continue to operate in a different part of the Russian embassy’s premises, he added.

“Our priority is ensuring the safety and the interests of our employees and their families.”

‘No diplomatic status’

On Saturday afternoon, Warsaw’s Deputy Mayor Tomasz Bratek announced that the city authorities had “taken possession” of the building.

“Initially, the Russian side refused to open the gate and doors. We had to call a locksmith who, thanks to his tools, allowed us to enter the site,“ Bratek was quoted by the PAP news agency as saying.

“Seeing that we were not going to withdraw, the Russian side, represented by the deputy ambassador, gave us back the keys,“ he added.

During the day, people could be seen leaving the building, some carrying cardboard boxes, bags and bin liners full of belongings as they were ushered off the premises.

For several hours, trucks with diplomatic plates evacuated various objects from the building.

Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski stressed on his Twitter account in the evening that the school building “has no diplomatic status and is not protected by any immunity”.

He added that in 2016 the Russian Federation had been ordered to pay more than 31 million zlotys ($7.4 million) plus interest for illegal occupation of the site.

The Russian high school was housed in a building that belonged to the Polish tenor Jan Kiepura before World War II.

In 1945, the building was nationalised by the state before being handed over by the ruling communists to the Soviet authorities in 1953.

According to the Polish authorities, this operation was conducted “without legal basis”.

Poland’s foreign ministry issued a statement in March 2022, shortly after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, saying the Polish courts had ruled that Russia had to return the buildings to Polish control.

Saturday’s announcement by the Polish foreign ministry came a year after the Warsaw city council seized a former Russian diplomatic site, nicknamed the “nest of spies” by Warsaw residents, and handed it to Ukraine. – AFP