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Mahuta remains coy on sending lethal aid to Ukraine military

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta has refused to confirm whether or not New Zealand is prepared to provide Ukraine's military with lethal aid.

- 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
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo: Pool / NZME

Ukraine's foreign minister has said he has travelled to NATO HQ in Brussels to discuss one thing: "Weapons, weapons, weapons."

Last night, a NATO meeting of foreign ministers addressed the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking before the meeting, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said international order must be defended.

"In recent weeks, [the] Ukrainian army and the entire Ukrainian nation has demonstrated that we know how to fight, we know how to win but without sustainable and sufficient supply of all weapons requested by Ukraine these wins will be accompanied with enormous sacrifices," Stoltenberg said.

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, who was on a virtual call with Nato foreign ministers last night, told Morning Report New Zealand is limited in terms of the support it can give as part of a multilateral approach.

"We will take a multilateral approach to tackle a range of fronts of this unjust, illegal and unprovoked war that does include military support, that does include humanitarian aid, it includes bringing perpetrators to account at the International Criminal Court and it also includes intelligence and logistical support.

"We're very mindful as an international community that the backbone of the Ukrainian army are civilians so they will need also to be trained in the modern military equipment that they are asking for."

Mahuta said Ukraine's foreign minister had not approached New Zealand directly to ask for lethal military aid but instead spoke generally to countries offering support.

She said the government was not hesitating to send lethal aid but was instead weighing up how its response would work alongside that of the international community.

"The question we have to ask is what can we do to respond immediately to support an international response what do we have access to and what will make the biggest impact?

"We cannot compete with countries who are making huge pledges and have within their defence force a huge amount of assets."

Mahuta said the government was not opposed in principle to providing Ukraine with lethal aid but claimed it could more effectively assist Ukraine's efforts in other ways.

She said New Zealand was using other avenues, such as the second round of autonomous sanctions against Russia, to stand in solidarity with the international response to the war in Ukraine.

A photo shows destruction from conflict areas in Bucha, Ukraine, on 3 April, 2022.
A photo shows destruction from conflict areas in Bucha, Ukraine, on 3 April, 2022. Photo: AFP or licensors

Meanwhile, former Defence Minister Ron Mark has called on the government to to send lethal aid to Ukraine.

Mark said that in 10 years' time Europeans will look at New Zealand's current response, including sanctions, humanitarian supplies and intelligence analysts, and consider it tokenistic.

He told First Up lethal aid is the appropriate response to the innocent murder of Ukrainian people.

"Are we going to continue to do what we've done which could be seen as tokenism by the Europeans in 10 years time or are we going to provide a response that befits the deaths of those children and innocent woman and men who were murdered on the streets of Bucha?

"I think it's about time they lent in with lethal aid."

He said the Defence Force had Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) that could be sent to Ukraine in a similar move to Australia's decision to send repurposed Bushmaster personnel vehicles.

Mark said the last thing New Zealand needed was the world viewing the country in a poor light.

Mahuta said considerations around lethal aid would be made in time but given our geographical location there were likely more effective ways to support Ukraine.