25 Feb 2022

Ukraine invasion: Sanctions are NZ's response to Russia's 'act of war' - Acting Foreign Minister David Parker

10:55 am on 25 February 2022

Acting Foreign Minister David Parker says New Zealand stands ready to do its bit to counter Russia's "unprovoked and illegal" attack on Ukraine.

People take shelter in a metro station in Kyiv on the morning of February 24, 2022.

People take shelter in a metro station in Kyiv as the Russian assault on Ukraine begins. Photo: AFP

He told Morning Report that despite being a small country, New Zealand could do its part to ensure Western liberal democracies were unequivocal in their condemnation of the invasion.

Russian forces yesterday launched a full invasion of Ukraine - a massed assault by land, sea and air - the biggest attack by one state against another in Europe since World War II.

Cruise and ballistic missiles rained down in many parts of the country. Tanks have rolled across borders - in separatist regions to the east and from Belarus in the north - while more troops entered from the Black Sea to the south.

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Russian forces were following the instructions of president Vladimir Putin who said his goal was the "demilitarisation and denazification" of Ukraine.

Sanctions announced overnight by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta included a ban on export of goods to the Russian military and security services.

Parker said New Zealand would also be withdrawing from foreign affairs bilateral consultations with Russia and travel bans on government officials would be put in place.

New Zealand exporters that thought their exports were likely to end up in the hands of the Russian military should be contacting MFAT to find out whether their products were on a strategic list of banned exports, he said.

Parker said New Zealand's total exports to Russia amounted to $293 million in a recent year, the majority of which was made up of butter and other dairy products.

He said the relatively inconsequential size of the export market to Russia, as a percentage of total exports, highlighted the limit of what New Zealand could do.

Asked whether New Zealand's imposition of sanctions on Russia could risk antagonising our biggest trading partner, China, Parker said: "Our dealings on this issue are more principled than that."

China has called on all sides to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine but stopped short of condemning Russia's invasion.

"This is unequivocally an act of war," Parker said.

"Misery and death are being wrought upon the people of the Ukraine, who have done nothing to threaten Russia. So the idea that we would not act with the international community because of another trade interest is incorrect."

In a statement last night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern urged Russia to immediately withdraw from Ukraine to avoid a catastrophic and pointless loss of innocent life.

She said the attack was unprovoked and entirely avoidable.

NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said overnight that president Putin's actions were a brutal act of war, of the type most thought was part of history in Europe.

'It is my homeland' - NZ's Ukraine community urges government action

The Ukraine community in Aotearoa is on edge following the Russian invasion of their homeland.

Kirill Kirichai lives in Wellington and has family in Ukraine that have been displaced by the conflict.

He told Morning Report he couldn't sleep last night due to concerns for his loved ones.

"You have, as you know, that sinking feeling in your stomach," he said.

"It's definitely - hasn't been a good night."

Kirichai's parents had managed to leave Ukraine in anticipation of the invasion and were currently in Spain, but his wife's relatives were still in Kyiv.

"They're in a car and they're trying to get to the western Ukraine, to Poland and from the last I heard, they were stuck in traffic. So it's like massive traffic jams all the way to the border."

He said he had come into work today as it was a welcome distraction but said he was a "nervous wreck" all the same.

"It is my homeland, I mean I was born there, everyone - my friends are there and I went to school there ... I mean it's terrible."

Ukrainian Association of New Zealand (North) head Yuriy Gladun was also concerned for relatives in his homeland and urged the New Zealand government to offer Ukraine humanitarian aid and to assist the relatives of Ukrainians living in New Zealand.

"Two weeks ago we sent a letter to Jacinda Ardern signed by leaders of major Ukrainian communities in Auckland. I have received an answer, that this is the matter of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that is all," he said.

"We obviously would like - not only to hear from the government, but we would like to see some action and so far, they have been just - quiet."

Gladun said the Ukrainian community in New Zealand would not stop asking the New Zealand government for assistance.

"We will knock to the door again and again and again because there is much New Zealand can do."

He said offering humanitarian help was paramount and New Zealand also needed to investigate its options for accepting refugees fleeing Ukraine, as the situation was dire.

"I spoke with my sister yesterday: my home town, or my home city, is located in the western part of Ukraine - exactly where people are heading now, 150km from Polish border, but my sister is scared, she's frightened to death.

"There are hundreds of people queuing by the ATM machines, for cash. There are hundreds of people queuing by petrol stations, and even if I tried to help, I'm not sure that whatever money I send will be received, 'cause it's most probably the banking system is in collapse, like everything else."

Acting Foreign Minister David Parker said this morning that details of any assistance New Zealand could give to people fleeing Ukraine had not yet been considered.

"We normally approach those things through our international relationships through the ... United Nations' refugee service, and I would think that would be how we would be likely to approach that, should it arise.

"In respect of New Zealanders and their families, if they have been in Ukraine, of course we would pull out all of the stops and find emergency places in MIQ."

Gladun said New Zealand's Ukranian community was preparing rallies across the country over the weekend, to oppose the Russian invasion.

"Obviously Ukrainians here are now quite united."

He acknowledged current Covid-19 restrictions would make holding the rallies more difficult, but said the community was determined to make a stand.

"Doesn't matter how tricky it is - we will be there, we will be showing support to Ukraine and we will be protesting again the way Russia tries to solve its own problems.

"And I understand that Covid restrictions may not allow us to do whatever we want but we will try to do our best."

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