Russian Ambassador expulsion on hold: Government 'seeking advice'

4:13 pm on 7 December 2023
Russian Ambassador to New Zealand Georgii Zuev.

Russia's ambassador to New Zealand Georgii Zuev Photo: Supplied / NZ Govt

The government is considering advice about whether to expel Russia's ambassador, the prime minister says, softening his previous position.

When in opposition, Luxon and his party repeatedly called for the government to expel Russia's ambassador Georgii Zuev and withdraw New Zealand's own diplomat, after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

His then-foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee - now Parliament's speaker - had called for the expulsion in late February last year, just four days after the invasion began.

Luxon himself repeated this the following week, and the party repeated that was its position as recently as September last year.

Now in government with two coalition partners, however, he would not commit to do so - only saying Foreign Minister Winston Peters was seeking advice on the matter.

"We'll take advice on that, and that's something that our foreign minister will look at," Luxon said.

Christopher Luxon

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon says the foreign minister is taking advice on whether to expel the Russian Ambassador. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

He said the situation had changed.

"I spoke about it at the time if you recall when the conflict broke out that actually we didn't have an autonomous sanctions regime. We called for sanctions, we also called for New Zealand to support Ukraine in any way that we were asked to do so, and we also said, yes, that we thought expelling the Russian ambassador was appropriate."

He acknowledged, however, the party had maintained that position after sanctions were brought in.

"Yes," he said, "and as I said our new foreign minister will look at that and take advice on that".

"So again, now that we're in government, now that situation has continued, we'll have a look at that and the new foreign minister will look at that."

Peters refused to answer questions about whether it was his intention to expel the ambassador, saying only "well, if it was I would have told you wouldn't I?"

Asked if that meant he would not, he only said "sorry guys".

Winston Peters

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone