17 Mar 2018

NZ govt considers further measures against Russia

5:07 pm on 17 March 2018

The Prime Minister isn't ruling out further measures against Russia over the UK nerve agent attack, including the expulsion of diplomats, after the government halted all efforts to restart trade talks.

Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King;

Asked if New Zealand might follow Britain and expel staff from Russia's embassy in Wellington, Jacinda Ardern also said she could not rule further actions in or out.

It comes after Ms Ardern yesterday publicly denounced the nerve agent attack using a nerve agent on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, UK.

"We're keeping in close contact with our partners in this situation as further evidence comes to light.

"We're now assessing what further evidence is coming to light and making sure that we're being responsive which is why we're looking at making further statements."

The United Kingdom has ordered 23 Russian diplomats to leave the country within a week in response to the nerve agent attack and Russia's refusal to respond over it.

Citing unidentified sources, the Telegraph says British investigators are working on the theory that the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics or in a gift that was opened in Mr Skripal's Salisbury house.

Britain has said the toxin was Novichok, a lethal nerve agent first developed by the Soviet military.

It's the first known offensive use of such a weapon on European soil since the Second World War.

Russia's Foreign minister signalled it would also expel the UK's diplomats in Russia.

All trade efforts with Russia halted

The Prime Minister's office also confirmed the government was halting its efforts to restart free trade negotiations with Russia.

New Zealand's free trade agreements talks with Russia were suspended in 2014, following Russia's military intervention in Ukraine.

However, Foreign Minister Winston Peters had been pushing for resumed discussions about a deal, in line with the coalition agreement between Labour and New Zealand First.

New Zealand currently does about $350 million worth of trade with within existing trade sanctions.

Ms Ardern yesterday said New Zealand agreed with Britain, the United States, Germany and France it was highly likely that Russia was the culprit, lending her support to a joint statement by the four countries that asserted Russia was the only plausible source of the nerve agent.

Govt 'confused' over Russia policy - National Party

Meanwhile, the National Party said the government had been confused over the past few days about what its policy on Russia was.

Its foreign affairs and trade spokesman Todd McClay welcomed the Prime Minister's statement on the nerve attack, but said it was a long time coming.

"The government have been quite confused over the last few days on just what their policy on Russia is, but I'm very pleased that tehy've stepped up and tehy're standing beside the United Kingdom government," he said.

This week Foreign Minister Winston Peters was accused of being a Russian apologist, and of putting a free trade deal with Russia above other potential agreements.

The party had criticised some recent comments from Mr Peters about Russia, saying it seemed he had prejudice towards the country which had pushed him to make some "pretty idiosyncratic" changes to foreign policy.

"I just hope that she has our foreign minister fully on board because we have yet to hear his own views about Russia," Mr McClay said.

He said the focus now should be on repairing New Zealand's relationship with Europe.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs