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Bumped for Biden: PM's meeting with Zelensky abandoned

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and Prime Minister Chris Hipkins shake hands at the NATO summit in Vilnius. A planned bilateral meeting between the two leaders had to be abandoned as they ran out of time.
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins speaks with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky at the NATO summit in Vilnius after their planned bilateral meeting had to be abandoned. Photo: Supplied / Prime Minister's Office

It was an anti-climactic end to the NATO summit for the prime minister after he had to bail out on his planned bilateral meeting with the Ukrainian president when they ran out of time.

Chris Hipkins, at the very end of the bilateral list, was scheduled to meet Volodomyr Zelensky as the Lithuania summit wrapped up, but after waiting about an hour-and-a-half had to call time.

After two days of diplomatic positioning and at times tense negotiations between NATO and Ukraine, a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Zelensky ran long, leaving no time to meet with the New Zealand prime minister.

They did bump into each other as Hipkins was leaving the venue.

"Thanks again [inaudible] but I already have dialogue with you and thanks to ... your society for supporting Ukraine," Zelensky said to him.

New Zealand had just pledged a further $4.7 million of "targeted support for Ukraine's recovery and resilience".

"We're absolutely behind you," Hipkins assured Zelensky.

"We see it [Russia's invasion] not just as an attack on Ukraine but an attack on the entire system of values and rules that New Zealanders firmly support."

"All the best of luck," Zelensky replied.

"And to you too."

Then followed possibly the most rushed stand-up with reporters in recent times.

"We had the opportunity to have a brief dialogue with him where I was able to restate New Zealand's firm support for Ukraine," he told reporters.

"I know that that support is warmly acknowledged and appreciated by Ukraine."

Of the money committed at NATO, $1.2m will go towards the United Nations Development Programme's Mine Action Programme which leads the work on "eliminating the threat posed by land mines" in Ukraine since 2016.

As well, $500,000 will go towards the International Atomic Energy Agency for its work in Ukraine.

"The devastation wrought by the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam ... has underscored once again the vital importance of the IAEA's work there to reduce the risk of a nuclear incident," said Hipkins.

"New Zealand calls on Russia to end its occupation and militarisation of the nuclear power plant."

A further $3m has been committed to recovery and reconstruction assistance for that is best used to support peace efforts will be developed in consultation with international partners," he said.

New Zealand has so far contributed more than $80m in "diplomatic, military and humanitarian assistance", said Hipkins, as well as support for Ukraine's legal case against Russia, sanctions targeting more than 1500 Russian and Belarusian individuals and entities, as well as "restrictive trade measures".

He also delivered a speech to Indo-Pacific leaders, present were the so-called "Asia-Pacific 4", alongside the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, France's Emmanuel Macron and Canada's Justin Trudeau.

New Zealand has a "long and proud history of opposition to nuclear weapons" and is "deeply troubled by Russia's nuclear rhetoric and destabilising actions", he said.

Hipkins also noted "concerning related developments in North Korea and Iran".

He's the second New Zealand Prime Minister to address NATO leaders; last year in Madrid Dame Jacinda Ardern spoke at the same session - her focus was on China, which she described as having become "more assertive and more willing to challenge international rules and norms".

Hipkins told leaders as a small state, "New Zealand depends on a strong and effective international order in which rules and norms, instead of power, governs actions".

"Russia's aggression and illegal invasion of Ukraine is a blatant disregard of the UN Charter and an affront to the international order".

He name-checked China twice in relatively neutral terms, saying during his recent visit to Beijing he had "encouraged China to play a constructive role" to try to influence Russia towards taking a course towards a peaceful end to the conflict.

"China's increasing assertiveness is resulting in geopolitical change and competition," he said.

"Critical supply chain disruptions, economic coercion and foreign interference are shared security challenges for New Zealand, the Pacific and NATO allies alike."