New Zealand to freeze assets of Russia's elite, ban super yachts, ships and aircraft in support of Ukraine

New Zealand will freeze the assets of Russia's elite and ban Russian super yachts, ships and aircraft in support of Ukraine. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday the Russia Sanctions Bill, which will pass under urgency in Parliament this week, to provide further sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.

"A Bill of this nature has never been brought before our Parliament, but with Russia vetoing UN sanctions we must act ourselves to support Ukraine and our partners in opposition to this invasion," Ardern said at her post-Cabinet press conference. 

"When we first responded to Russia's invasion by issuing targeted travel bans, prohibiting exports to the military and suspending bilateral foreign ministry consultations, we said no options were off the table. Today, we take the next step in our response to increase sanctions, in line with the actions of our partners."

The new sanctions can be imposed on people, services, companies, and assets related to those in Russia who are responsible for or associated with the invasion, or that are of economic or strategic relevance to Russia, including oligarchs. 

A public sanctions register will be set up to list every individual, entity, asset, or service that is sanctioned. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) on Monday published the list of Russian officials and other individuals associated with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, who are banned from travelling to New Zealand.

"The sanctions will enable the Government to freeze assets located in New Zealand. Those sanctioned will also be prevented from moving assets to New Zealand or using our financial system as a back door to get around sanctions increasingly imposed by other countries," Ardern said. 

"Sanctions could also apply to trade, and financial institutions as well as stopping the likes of Russian super yachts, ships and aircraft from entering New Zealand waters or airspace."

The new law also allows for sanctions to be imposed against other states complicit with Russia's actions, such as Belarus.

Ardern said further tranches of sanctions will follow. 

The first tranche will "focus on aligning to the actions of our partners, such as expanding our travel ban lists, immediate asset freezes and sanctions on Russian banks".

The second tranche will "focus on a more forensic analysis of Russian investment in New Zealand with ties to the invasion".

Ardern said Russian investment in New Zealand is "limited" - up to $40 million - but she said it was important to prevent New Zealand from becoming a destination for Russia's elite to use as a back door. 

Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said there was cross-party support for the legislation.  

New Zealand lacks an independent sanctions law that would allow it to target the Kremlin without going through the United Nations, which Russia as a permanent member of the Security Council has veto power over. 

National MP Gerry Brownlee's proposed autonomous sanctions legislation would have enabled New Zealand to sanction Russia without the UN's approval but Ardern said that is a wider discussion for another day.

Mahuta said the Government continues to seek advice on a full autonomous sanctions regime.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, confirming months of speculation of an imminent invasion of land Russian President Vladimir Putin considers to be sliced off Russia following the Soviet Union's collapse in the early 1990s.

It came after Putin recognised two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine - Donetsk and Luhansk - as independent entities. The Russian leader claims to be defending Russian-speaking communities through the "demilitarisation and de-Nazification" of Ukraine.

The Kremlin calls it a "special military operation", not an invasion. 

Ardern told Newshub Nation she was "in absolute despair" after hearing about the invasion, which has so far claimed the lives of at least 9000 people while the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine has passed 1.5 million. 

Because Ukraine is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) - an intergovernmental military alliance between 28 European countries and the United States and Canada - it must fight the battle alone. 

But the US, the EU, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other nations have responded with sanctions aimed at crippling the Kremlin. 

Some countries have sent weapons and other supplies to Ukraine. Germany had a longstanding practice of blocking lethal weapons from being sent to conflict zones, but decided to send 1000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defence systems to aid Ukraine. 

New Zealand was one of the first countries to send aid to Ukraine - an initial $2 million to help deliver essential humanitarian assistance, with a focus on supporting health facilities and meeting basic needs such as provision of food and hygiene items.

On March 3, New Zealand joined more than 30 states in referring the atrocities that have occurred in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court which will enable an investigation into war crimes that may have occurred in Ukraine. 

But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is far from satisfied. He lashed out at NATO over the weekend after his request for a no-fly zone was rejected by allies over fears it could bring the US and Europe into direct conflict with Russia. 

"Any movement in this direction will be considered by us as participation in an armed conflict by that country," Putin said on Saturday.

He added that imposing a no-fly zone would have "colossal and catastrophic consequences not only for Europe but also the whole world".

Russia is becoming increasingly cut off with its banks blocked from SWIFT, the world's main banking messaging service. The country's stocks and currency tanked to record lows, while the Russian central bank more than doubled interest rates to 20 percent. 

Russian oligarchs - the rich and powerful few who influence Putin or benefit from his leadership - have had their assets frozen in several countries, even the traditionally neutral Switzerland. 

The US and European partners are now exploring banning Russian oil imports, but US Secretary of State Blinken has stressed the importance of maintaining steady oil supplies globally.

Russia has shut its airspace off to 36 countries in retaliation to sanctions. It came after Europe, Canada and the UK shut their airspace for Russian airlines.

"These sanctions that are being imposed are akin to a declaration of war but thank God it has not come to that," Putin said on Saturday. 

The Kremlin has now banned Facebook, Twitter and major foreign news outlets as part of a new law to punish anyone spreading "false information" about its Ukraine invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

The crackdown comes as the Kremlin scrambles to contain discontent over the war and control the narrative. Police have detained more than 4600 people at Russia-wide protests against the invasion.