NZ a 'prime target' for Russian spies - former KGB agent

A former KGB agent says New Zealand is a prime target for Russian spies.

Boris Karpichkov told Newshub that Russia intelligence would be interested in New Zealand because we are part of both the Commonwealth and the Five Eyes alliance.

The other members of that intelligence alliance are Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada.

Mr Karpichkov, who claims he was poisoned on Auckland's Queen St in 2006, says if Jacinda Ardern believes there are no Russian spies in New Zealand, she's either naive or misinformed. 

He says "of course" there are undeclared Russian intelligence agents in the country, likely a small number who are perhaps military personnel. 

An international relations expert says Ms Ardern's statement that there are no Russian spies in New Zealand will harm the country's reputation.

The Prime Minister has said she won't be joining 27 other nations in expelling Russian diplomats in solidarity with the UK after a chemical attack on British soil.

The US has ordered 60 Russian diplomats to leave, while the UK has expelled 23. Ukraine has booted out 13 diplomats.

A host of smaller countries have joined the act too, with some having ordered out just one person.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says 17 Russians work in an embassy in Karori, Wellington, but the Prime Minister says none of those are 'undeclared intelligence staff'.

"We've sought out if we have them - we don't."

Her admission that officials can't find any Russian spies has been mocked overseas, with publications including The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Telegraph all covering the story.

State news agency Russia Today also had a crack, with an article saying New Zealand "tried its very best to show 'solidarity' with London's finger-pointing".

"The fruitless Kiwi spy hunt comes amid a coordinated purge of Russian diplomats by the UK's closest allies," it continues.

International relations expert Alexander Gillespie says Ms Ardern's position is "foolish".

"Other countries overseas are not trying to do this because we've uncovered nests of spies. Countries are expelling Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain because of the chemical attack."

Mr Gillespie says New Zealand's reputation will be harmed, as we are now the outlier among a coalition standing up to Russian aggression.