While we fret about Covid, we risk forgetting about the Ukraine – but the PM has popped up to let Russia know we are watching …

Prime  Minister Jacinda Ardern has  at  last  broken  her silence  on  the tension that  has developed  over  the imminent  invasion of  the Ukraine  by Russia.

According to RNZ, she has shared concerns with the EU about the situation and said there was a need to reinforce the sovereignty of Ukraine.

She told the President of the EU Council last night that the New Zealand Government would be watching closely and take any steps required to keep calling for de-escalation.

While there was no autonomous sanctions regime, Ardern said the government had other measures it would use if it saw any activity in breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

The risk of armed conflict in Eastern Europe reached a dangerous level on Tuesday, as the United States placed 8500 soldiers on “heightened preparedness” for deployment. The Pentagon said it was clear Russia had “no intention” of backing down from its aggression – an apparent plan to invade Ukraine.

That  day Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta  said New Zealand was deeply concerned about “the continuing and unprecedented build-up of Russian military forces on its border with Ukraine”.

Then Ardern called on Russia to reduce the “risk of a severe miscalculation”.  NZ could retaliate “if we see any breach of what we believe is the Ukraine’s  sovereignty”.

While the Australian government is considering applying sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, and Nato countries  have military  forces on standby,  NZ  says  it  is  “deeply concerned about the continuing and unprecedented build-up of Russian military forces on its border with Ukraine”.

In what international experts  describe as “the  most complex geostrategic environment”    since the  Cold  War, the hostilities   that  may  break out if Russia invades the Ukraine  could  become a  global clash.

The statement issued under Mahuta’s name on Tuesday, but written by her ministry’s officials, said:

“Aotearoa New Zealand strongly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity … We call on Russia to act in a manner consistent with international law and to take immediate steps to reduce tensions”.

Russia has continued to deny it plans to invade Ukraine, despite assembling an estimated 100,000 troops at its border with the country.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss last week said British intelligence indicated Russia was planning to install a pro-Russian leader in the country and the country’s intelligence services were in discussion with former Ukrainian politicians about the invasion.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov​, who met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the weekend, said after the meeting Russia had “repeatedly made it clear” that it was not intending to invade.

He said Russia was instead concerned that Western countries were bolstering Ukraine’s military, and the country wants an assurance that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the Nato security arrangement –something the US will not agree to.

Russia in 2014 invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from the Ukraine, and has since supported pro-Russian forces in their fight to retain control of an area of Eastern Ukraine.

NZ’s preoccupation with the  latest manifestation of the Covid pandemic has blocked  out to a degree  the  risk  of  a  far  greater  danger, the  outbreak  of  a  conflagration in Europe  that  could have a  far  greater  impact on  this  country.  Yet the  issue  has  barely rated  a mention  in TV news bulletins, nor  (as  far as Point  of  Order could ascertain) in  Cabinet  discussions.

Given the UK Foreign Secretary did not bother to call in on NZ on her  mission to Australia last week, it  is  clear  this  country  has slipped  down the  international ladder to  where  its  voice, once a  powerful  champion among small nations, can be barely  heard, or noticed.

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