21 Mar 2022

Watch: New Zealand pledges another $5m to support Ukraine, including military aid

4:48 pm on 21 March 2022

The New Zealand Government will send non-lethal military equipment to Ukraine, such as military body armour, helmets and vests, and has agreed to pledge a further $5 million to help Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

Watch the briefing here:

In the post-Cabinet update, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she spoke to Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, and a further pledge for an additional $5 million to support Ukraine had been made, including a contribution to the NATO trust fund to provide immediate non-lethal military assistance like fuel, military rations, communications and military first aid kits.

She said the requests for lethal aid were among general requests from all countries, rather than a specific request to New Zealand. She said the lead times for purchasing those are years, not weeks, and New Zealand did not have significant supply amounts.

Ardern said the NATO trust fund was able to make the distinction between funding for lethal aid and non-lethal.

New Zealand has also decided to supply tactical defence equipment such as body armour, helmets and vests. This adds to the sanctions already imposed, and brings total contributions to Ukraine aid to $11m.

Chief of Defence Air Marshall Kevin Short said the provision of the tactical equipment, which was currently held by NZ Defence Force, included 1066 body armour plates, 473 helmets, and 571 camouflaged vests.

He said New Zealand would look at the best way to get those to Ukraine and would likely use NZDF planes, and officials would also talk to Australia about how they could help.

The Defence Force was looking to bring in a lighter helmet for New Zealand's soldiers, and these helmets were being cycled out, he said.

The reason for moving to the lighter weight system was simply modernisation that was more usable by soldiers, "but this equipment is still servicable and available", he said.

Initially New Zealand was told the stock available was not enough to be worth sending over, but in the two weeks since then, they have said they would take anything that could be offered, he said.

Ardern said even if it was kit that had been used previously, it was better than some of what Ukraine soldiers were using at the moment which sometimes was no protection at all.

Chief of Defence Air Marshall Kevin Short says the tactical equipment would likely be taken to Ukraine on NZDF planes.

Chief of Defence Air Marshall Kevin Short says the tactical equipment would likely be taken to Ukraine on NZDF planes. Photo: Pool image / Robert Kitchin /Stuff

Ardern said New Zealand had agreed the defence minister would make further contact with his Ukrainian counterpart.

The government had not yet made the decision to supply lethal aid, with other countries offering those types of supplies, she said.

"We have less scope than many countries to provide it and it would be a fundamental change in approach."

She said New Zealand's travel bans and export controls were among the first imposed, and "these have been noticed" by Ukraine.

She has not received analysis of the impact on New Zealand of the sanctions levied against Russia at this point.

But she said it would not be a surprise if New Zealand was placed on retaliatory sanction lists by Russia.

Her roughly 20-minute phone conversation with Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was astounding, she said.

"I cannot imagine what it would be to be in the situation where you're having to relay what is happening to your people on a daily basis and yet be so calm, resolute, thoughtful and equally to even be in a position to share thanks to a country on the other side of the world for their contribution."

He was "absolutely focused", she said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chief of Defence Air Marshal Kevin Short announced NZ will be sending non-lethal military equipment to the Ukraine army.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Chief of Defence Air Marshal Kevin Short announced NZ will be sending non-lethal military equipment to the Ukraine army. Photo: Pool image / Robert Kitchin /Stuff

She said what was happening in Ukraine was considered a massive disruption to the international rules-based order, "and that's why we have taken these extraordinary measures".

Ardern said there had been calls internationally for Putin to be tried as a war criminal. She said his acts "should be scrutinised and he should be held to account", but it was not for her to make those decisions.

"That is for our international bodies to undertake. Is what he's doing morally wrong and reprehensible, absolutely, should he be held to account by the world? Yes."

Visas for Ukrainians, refugee quota and travel

Immigration New Zealand has also received 314 sponsorship requests via the Special Ukraine Visa since it opened last week, and 33 applications.

People are also already arriving from Ukraine on other visas.

Ardern said there were commercial options for people fleeing Ukraine from neighbouring countries to be able to get to New Zealand, but the biggest struggle at the moment was people getting over the border in the first place.

She said the advice to New Zealanders was not to travel to Ukraine. This also applied to people who wished to travel there to help in defence of the country, though she did not believe there was any legal impediment to this either.

Ardern said New Zealand had contacted the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and they have made no request at this stage for New Zealand to use its quota for Ukrainian refugees.

She said that took time, and they encouraged the government to consider other options which was what resulted in the Special Visa.

"We'll receive any requests and then give it consideration but as yet none have been received. We do have to always be mindful with the refugee quota it does come with a significant amount of wraparound support. It's the refugee and migrant centre, it is support for housing, welfare support - it is very intensive. We've scaled up to double that quota but we're always very cautious about making sure we can do it properly."

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