CENTREVILLE, Md. (WJZ/AP) — 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.
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.
Neighbors of both compounds described generally friendly relations with the diplomats and their families.
“Wasn’t like it was a secret…Russian people stayed there,” says Karen Fields. Fields is a long-time eastern shore resident who supports the president’s decision.
“I know that he cares about national security, politics.”
The head of the Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners lives just across the river from the Estate, and tells WJZ by phone, local government wasn’t notified about the move. He never saw anything suspicious from his Russian neighbors.
“I was rather surprised this facility was singled out,” says Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Steve Wilson.
“I’ve been there for 70 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a loud noise from across the river,” he says.
“We coexist with these people peacefully,” said Alison Davis, who lives near the Maryland retreat. “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, “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.
This luxurious vacation spot was once the home of DuPont executive John Raskob, who financed construction of the empire state building.
An Associated Press story from 1992 said the compound had four tennis courts, a swimming pool and a soccer field. A camp was held there for Russian children during the summer and for two weeks each Christmas. The brick mansion on the site 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.
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.
While some believe the President has gone too far, Maryland Senator Ben Carson believes shutting the compound is not enough, and plans to introduce more measures in congress.
Maryland representative Elijah Cummings tells WJZ: “The president’s actions send a strong signal that interference by Russia–or any foreign power–in our electoral processes is intolerable.”
Tax records value to the Centreville property at more than $8 million.
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