Ukraine invasion: Deputy PM Grant Robertson speaks after US officials accuse China of aiding Russia

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson is calling on the global community to "remain unified" after United States officials accused China of helping Russia as it invades Ukraine. 

The US warned China during "intense" talks on Monday against helping Vladimir Putin's regime after intelligence purportedly leaked to the Financial Times and CNN alleged that China had signalled willingness to provide aid to Russia.

"We have communicated very clearly to Beijing that we won't stand by," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters on Monday. "We will not allow any country to compensate Russia for its losses." 

China denied the claims.

"The US has repeatedly spread malicious disinformation against China on the Ukraine issue," the Chinese Embassy in London told international news agency Reuters in a statement.

"China has been playing a constructive role in promoting peace talks."

Chinese President Xi Jinping has not publicly condemned Russia for the invasion and earlier this year he released a joint statement with his Russian counterpart Putin declaring no forbidden areas of cooperation between them. 

Geoffrey Miller of the Democracy Project has warned there would potentially be huge consequences for New Zealand if China - our largest trading partner - assisted Russia to continue its invasion of Ukraine.

But Deputy Prime Minister Robertson is not jumping to conclusions. 

"We're getting well ahead of ourselves in that regard," he said on Thursday in Wellington, when asked how the Government would respond if China assisted Russia. 

He acknowledged "what the Chinese have said" in terms of denying the purported US intelligence that Beijing was open to assisting Moscow. 

"I'm concerned by anything that escalates the war in Ukraine and anything that shows support to Vladimir Putin's illegal invasion," Robertson said. 

"Overall, what we want is for there to be a peaceful solution here and for the people of Ukraine to be able to get on with their lives."

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Photo credit: Getty Images

Robertson said the Government has not considered sanctioning China. 

"What I'd say is we want the global community to remain unified in our condemnation of the illegal invasion of Ukraine and we want to make sure we're doing all we can to come to a peaceful resolution.

"New Zealand will deal with the situations that are in front of us. At the moment, we haven't had to consider that matter."

The Government earlier this month passed under urgency the Russia Sanctions Bill, which will allow New Zealand to freeze the assets of any Russians connected to Putin's regime.

It came after Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, which it called a "special military operation" to "denazify" the country.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said those who are sanctioned will 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.

"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."

Putin is listed at the top of a public sanctions register of 100 officials and other individuals associated with the Russian invasion of Ukraine published by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). Russia has since added New Zealand to its list of unfriendly countries

"We've not yet received the final advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade around the specific application of sanctions," Ardern said on Thursday, when asked when New Zealand will begin sanctioning Russians associated with Putin. 

"That suite of options includes the sanctions which we have already applied around the export of military equipment, it includes travel bans; now we're moving on individuals, assets and entities that may be connected to the regime or influential in the regime."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Getty Images

Ardern suggested it was unlikely the Russian Ambassador to New Zealand would be expelled. 

"You'll notice very few countries - if any - have taken that step and one of the reasons for that is that it often leads to the loss of your own representation in-country," Ardern said. 

"When you have citizens in Russia as we do, it means we essentially become cut off from being able to assist them, so it is something you tend to give very heavy consideration to before you do it."

There are currently 61 Kiwis registered on SafeTravel as being in Russia, according to MFAT. 

Russian bombs continue to rain down on Ukrainian cities, according to officials, despite talk of compromise from both Moscow and Kyiv in peace negotiations after three weeks of war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, appearing via video link before the US Congress on Wednesday, called for tougher sanctions on Russia

The White House said President Joe Biden had not changed his opposition to a no-fly zone, something Putin says would be tantamount to a declaration of war. But Biden did offer an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, including 800 anti-aircraft systems.

ACT leader David Seymour says the Government should send Ukraine the New Zealand Defence Force's 24 anti-tank weapons. 

Nina Obermaier, the European Union's Ambassador to New Zealand, told Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday that a fourth round of EU sanctions will mean Russia is cut off from importing luxury goods, steel, energy technology, aircraft and more, in an attempt to impact Russia's state owned enterprises. 

"We have adopted three sets of sanctions. These have hit Russia's economy very hard. The ruble has plummeted and lost more than half of its value," Obermaier said. 

"Many key Russian banks are cut off from the international banking system and companies are leaving the country one after the other, not wanting to have their brands associated with the murderous regime."

There are now around 3 million Ukrainian refugees. 

"Just to give you an idea of the scale," Obermaier said. "Slovakia, a country with roughly the same population size as New Zealand, has taken in 200,000 Ukrainian refugees over a period of three weeks."

New Zealand has opened up a special fast-tracked visa for Ukrainian Kiwis to bring their wider family here to shelter from the war and has donated another $4 million in aid.