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.