7 Mar 2022

Russia sanctions bill: It's vital NZ send 'very clear message' over Ukraine - expert

8:19 pm on 7 March 2022

An international affairs expert says New Zealand's tailored approach to further sanctions on Russia is a strategic move.

An Ukrainian refugee from from the Black Sea port city of Odessa, hugs two children as they arrive in Athens by bus, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on March 6, 2022.

A Ukrainian refugee from Odessa hugs two children as they arrive in Warsaw in Poland. They are among 1.5 million refugees who have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded it. Photo: AFP

The Russia Sanctions Bill will pass under urgency this week to target those responsible for, or associated with, the invasion of Ukraine.

The new sanctions will freeze assets, prevent those penalised from moving their money to New Zealand and ban Russian boats and aircraft from entering New Zealand waters or airspace.

University of Otago professor of international affairs Robert Patman said adopting tailored legislation over a generic autonomous sanctions mechanism was a strategic move.

"We've gone for a dedicated bill specific to Russia. The merit of that is that it enables us to do everything we want to do but it's not necessarily a generic bill that could be applied elsewhere.

"I think one of the concerns that exists is that if we had an autonomous sanctions mechanism then we might come under pressure from some of our allies to do things that we don't really want to do."

- POOL -  Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta during the post-Cabinet press conference with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Parliament, Wellington. 07 March, 2022.  NZ Herald photograph by Mark Mitchell

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta, right, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern outline how the bill will work, during a media briefing in Wellington today. Photo: Pool/ NZME

Patman pointed to international spats over issues relating to China as one example of New Zealand positioning itself differently to its traditional Five Eyes allies.

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Robert Patman. Photo: Provided

"We've had a nuanced policy, for example, towards China, which has sometimes been slightly different from, say, the UK and Australia and the United States," he said.

"The concern is that if we had a unilateral capability, a national autonomous sanctions bill, we may come under pressure to join with them to take specific measures at certain times and at the moment we don't have that mechanism and therefore have a sort of 'get out' clause."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Autonomous Sanctions Bill, voted down by Labour last year, would not have allowed for the specific measures in the Russia Sanctions bill, such as the targeting of Russian oligarchs.

Asked whether the government could have simply amended the bill that had already been before Parliament, Ardern said that bill was not fit for purpose.

The change to autonomous sanctions is a big change, she said.

"So we've created our own bespoke response, and now we'll continue the wider autonomous sanctions work."

Professor Patman said small countries like New Zealand had big stakes in the maintenance of a rules-based system.

It was for that reason he said the government must do everything it could and he said New Zealand was well-positioned to do so on the international stage.

"New Zealand's got quite a lot of international political capital; the way it responded to the Covid-19 and also the way it responded to the terrible Christchurch terror atrocity.

"We shouldn't overestimate our possibilities, but we shouldn't underestimate them either. And I think in many respects, it's very important that the small and middle sized countries send a very clear message. It might not get through to [Russia's President] Mr [Vladimir] Putin, but it may get through to the Russian people."

The Russia Sanctions bill will be passed in full under urgency on Wednesday with the intention of introducing the new sanctions next week.

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