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Russia Cracks Down on a Delinquent Tenant - the US

MANSION RENTS FOR $12.61 A YEAR

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For the past six months, the magnificently domed, pastel yellow mansion that is home to the American ambassador in Moscow has stood empty, its chandeliers gathering dust, its echoing ballrooms awaiting the nomination of a new US envoy.

But among the several problems that the lack of an ambassador entails, wasting taxpayers' money on rent for an unoccupied residence does not rank high.

What is the annual rent on this 26,000-square-foot, turn-of-the-century palace, in one of the most historic corners of Moscow, a mile from the Kremlin?

A mere $12.61. Plus utilities, of course.

This is not how it was meant to be. And if the Russian government gets its way in a lengthy dispute with the US Embassy, this boondoggle's days are numbered. Even the embassy acknowledges that "the rent we are paying now is not reasonable." But the State Department's lawyers are out in force, and Washington is not giving up its current lease without a fight.

Spaso House, as the residence is known, built before World War I for a wealthy Russian merchant, is more than a splendid building in which to live and entertain. It has been at the heart of American life in Moscow since 1934, when the first United States ambassador moved in.

Writers of diplomatic memoirs have recalled such riotous occasions as the Christmas party in 1934, when the new ambassador was incautious enough to hire a troupe of performing animals from the Moscow Zoo to amuse the guests. Three trained seals went berserk in the ballroom, and a diplomatic incident was narrowly avoided when a baby bear, which had not been housebroken, ruined a Soviet general's uniform.

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