7 Mar 2022

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Russia, Ukraine and sanctions

7:57 am on 7 March 2022

As Russia's bombardment of Ukraine continues, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is hopeful of getting unanimous support across Parliament for the Russian Sanctions Bill being considered by Cabinet today.

Watch the PM speaking to Morning Report here:

The invasion has sent more than 1.5 million Ukrainians fleeing from the country and triggered tough Western sanctions against Russia aimed at squeezing its economy.

New Zealand has imposed individual travel bans on high-ranking Russian individuals, limited diplomatic engagements with Russia, imposed a blanket ban on export of goods to Russian military and security forces and pledged $2m in humanitarian aid for Ukraine.

But pressure is mounting on New Zealand to adopt harsher sanctions and Cabinet today will be discussing new measures including a specific law change to target Russian investment.

At the moment, New Zealand typically follows the lead of the United Nations when applying sanctions against belligerent powers, but the government wants to be able to apply its own.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Morning Report she was hopeful of getting unanimous support across Parliament.

The bill would allow the government to extend sanctions to those who may be involved in the decision making around the invasion and Oligarchs hiding Putin's wealth, Ardern said.

"It would enable us also to put in specific measures around aircraft, maritime space and so on.

"It is targeted, we are looking specifically at this conflict because that means that the wider issue of autonomous sanctions we can still continue to consider."

It needed to be specific legislation for this conflict, Ardern said.

"There needs to be enough flexibility in the framework to dock in those who we may need to in the future but it is specific to this conflict," she said.

"There has been a draft bill that has been around for a number of years but it is a general autonomous sanctions regime, so it is not specific to any conflict as this one would."

The draft bill wouldn't cover the type of sanctions that the government was wanting to implement, she said.

"We are moving very quickly on it, we've already talked to other parties because we want to make sure that we can move very quickly within the House to see it bought into effect."

She hoped for unanimous support in the House but Labour had the numbers to pass through Parliament regardless, she said.

Ardern said New Zealand hasn't had a request from NATO to provide lethal aid to Ukraine.

"New Zealand doesn't have the scale of military to have in reserves the kind of scale of kit that they are seeking. That does not mean that we cannot move quickly on other needs such as humanitarian aid, so we've done that.

"We haven't ruled out any particular action that we may take in the future, we want to keep our options open."

Anti-mandate, anti-vax protests

Asked how to deradicalise and awhi people involved in the anti-mandate, anti-vax protests that have taken place across the country - mainly in Wellington - recently, Ardern says it is a global problem that needed addressing.

Protesters spent 23 days occupying Parliament grounds before they were removed by police - something protesters responded to with violence and destruction.

There was no excuse for what took place in the Capital, she said.

"We do need to take a step back and say for some of the more extreme elements, how is it people could believe for instance some of the things the we were seeing coming from the protest ... people believe that we are requiring all children to be vaccinated, which is simply not true. They believe they're being poisoned by government, obviously, obviously that's an example of completely ridiculous information that was being shared.

"How do we deal with the fact that people may be only seeking their information online or often at receipt of at best misinformation but worst disinformation, stuff that is completely fabricated. We do have a job to do there, we're not alone in that, this is a global problem."

There were about 25 other countries who had similar protests, she said.

"This is something that is not just for governments but we do need to think more broadly about how those social media platforms, where they're often the distribution sites, what role do they have to play..."

The government had been doing work on violent extremism online and would continue to do so through the Christchurch call, she said.

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