Winston Peters not hard enough on Russia - National

National has blamed the Government's failure to find any Russian spies to expel on Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

The Prime Minister on Tuesday said New Zealand would not be joining its Five Eyes intelligence partners and 20 other countries around the world in a diplomatic slap on the wrist for Russia, because it couldn't find any "undeclared intelligence officers" to send home.

"If we did, we would expel them," Jacinda Ardern said.

Speaking to RNZ, former Trade Minister and diplomat Todd McClay said Mr Peters "seems to be much more preoccupied with them [Russia] than others are, for the wrong reason", and he wasn't giving Ms Ardern the best advice.

"I don't think it's clear to New Zealanders or to the world exactly what our foreign policy position is for Russia. It's a real fiasco."

Mr Peters earlier this month said there was "no evidence" Russia was involved in the shooting down of a passenger jet in 2014, nor meddling in the 2016 US election, despite long-running investigations into both pointing the finger at Moscow.

Mr McClay says Mr Peters "didn't criticise Russia as almost every friend New Zealand would say it had, or ally around the world, did" following the poisoning of an ex-Russian agent in the UK.

"It wasn't until the end of that week that it was tidied up by the Prime Minister with what was a very strong and critical statement, but didn't have any quotes from Mr Peters in it until it was put on the Government's website, and then it was changed."

Fellow National MP Judith Collins told The AM Show on Thursday morning said the Government's failure to find any spies was "pretty insulting".

"Just go down the embassy and look up how many are intelligence officers."

Asked by RNZ host Guyon Espiner why National didn't expel Russian spies when it was in power, Mr McClay said he wasn't sure there were any then either.

"I don't know about that... could well have been."

And if there were, he said the Salisbury attack has changed the game.

"It's not so much we were happy to have them here at the time, but certainly if we look at what's happening now around the world and the action Russia has taken, New Zealand needs to work out its foreign policy position on this."

Mr McClay said despite being a part of the Five Eyes intelligence network with the US, UK, Australia and Canada, he was "not aware" of New Zealand taking part in any spying of its own while he was Trade Minister.

Todd McClay
Todd McClay Photo credit: Reuters

It was widely reported last year that in 2015, New Zealand spied on former Trade Minister Tim Groser's opponents in the running for a job at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"In the two years that I was Trade Minister, I'm not aware that we did," said Mr McClay, who was Trade Minister from 2015 to 2017.

Mr McClay succeeded Mr Groser, who didn't get the job at the WTO.

Ms Ardern said on Wednesday she's waiting for further advice on whether to block certain Russians at the border.

Newshub.

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz