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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Breaks Ground for New Embassy

Construction of the new British Embassy in Moscow formally started Thursday with a ceremonial ground-breaking at the site on Smolenskaya Naberezhnaya.

The new embassy is the largest construction project currently being undertaken by the British Foreign Office and will cost approximately ?60 million ($90 million), said embassy press secretary Ian Hay-Campbell.

It is being built by the British company Taylor Woodrow and the Skanska Group of Finland.

The existing embassy, housed in a handsome 19th-century mansion opposite the Kremlin on Sofiiskaya Naberezhnaya, will remain the ambassador's residence.

The new embassy site was allocated to the British in the early 1960s, but it was not until 1987 that former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed a reciprocal agreement that exchanged land for a new Russian Embassy in London for the Smolenskaya Naberezhnaya plot, said Sir Curtis Keeble, the British ambassador in Moscow from 1978 to 1982, who attended Thursday's ceremony.

Also attending were the current ambassador, Sir Andrew Wood, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Kuznetsov and Moscow First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Resin.

The site of the existing embassy "was always a sore point," said Keeble, who has been active in the construction negotiations.

British Embassy legend has it that the Union Jack flag in the embassy's front yard was a constant irritation to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whose office in the Alexandrovsky Palace overlooked the embassy. Several moves were made by the Soviet government to oust the British from the site, said Keeble.

Hay-Campbell said the current building is too small for the modern needs of the embassy, which issues more than 100,000 visas every year, more than any other British embassy.

Construction will be undertaken by British and Russian workmen, said the building's architect, Richard Burton, who expressed confidence that the building's security would not be compromised by electronic surveillance devices.