Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta to represent New Zealand at NATO meeting

The Foreign Affairs Minister will represent New Zealand virtually at a NATO meeting this week as more horrific images emerge revealing atrocities in Ukraine.

NATO - the North Atlantic Treaty Organization - is a military alliance established after World War II. It cooperates with nine "partners across the globe" on individual events and conflicts but doesn't regularly invite representatives from outside countries to their meetings.

It stepped up its engagement with Asia-Pacific nations in 2016 and held the first meeting of Foreign Ministers in December 2020. That included New Zealand, which has worked with NATO for decades, including in Afghanistan and in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

NATO's global partners have been invited to a Foreign Ministers' Meeting at its Brussels headquarters on Thursday (local time) to discuss the response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta will stream in virtually, her office confirmed to Newshub.

"Aotearoa New Zealand stands with the international community in condemning Russia's unjustified and illegal attack on Ukraine," her office said. "These actions challenge international peace and security. As such, it is important that we coordinate with our like-minded partners in responding to it."

Other countries participating include Australia, Japan, Korea, Sweden, and Ukraine. 

"As well as discussing Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the meeting provides an opportunity for the Foreign Minister to discuss the security challenges in our own region with NATO Foreign Ministers and those from Australia, Korea, and Japan."

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta.
Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta. Photo credit: Getty Images.

At a press conference on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russian troops have pulled back from surrounding the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and are now expected to "shift their focus to the east". 

"In the coming weeks, we expect a further Russian push in eastern and southern Ukraine to try to take the entire Donbas and to create a land-bridge to occupied Crimea. So this is a crucial phase of the war."

Stoltenberg said the Foreign Ministers Meeting will be important as "Ukraine faces this new offensive". 

"On Thursday, we will be joined by Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. He will update us on the latest developments, including Kyiv's negotiations with Moscow," he said.

"Finland, Sweden, Georgia, and the European Union will be at the table and we will be joined by NATO's Asia-Pacific partners, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, because this crisis has global implications, which concerns us all."

Stoltenberg said the world this week had seen the images of "murdered civilians in Bucha and other places, controlled by the Russia military until a few days ago". 

"This is unbearable brutality that Europe has not witnessed in many decades. Targeting and murdering civilians is a war crime. All the facts must be established and all those responsible for these atrocities must be brought to justice."

New satellite imagery released on Wednesday shows bodies strewn across the streets of Bucha. They were taken in March, prior to Russia's exit, contradicting claims from Moscow that Ukrainians had staged recent footage of the atrocities.

Jens Stoltenberg.
Jens Stoltenberg. Photo credit: Reuters.

Also on NATO's agenda this week is "China's growing influence and coercive policies on the global stage", Stoltenberg said. 

New Zealand has taken issue with a proposed security deal between China and the Solomon Islands, with leaked documents revealing it could allow Chinese warships to station themselves at the Pacific Island country. 

Both Mahuta and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have said the deal is concerning and that other Pacific Island nations can assist with supporting the Solomons' security.

A Defence Assessment released by New Zealand in December reported that China is the globe's "major driver of geopolitical change".

"In 2019, China publicly announced its intention to increase its military cooperation in the Pacific, as part of its plan for an enhanced global military footprint," the report said.

"China views an increased presence in the Pacific as part of its natural progression towards its global goals, but there are also more specific reasons for Beijing's interest, spanning geopolitical, strategic and economic drivers."   

New Zealand has already provided assistance to NATO to respond to Russia's military assault, including a $5 million contribution to the NATO Trust Fund for fuel, military rations and first aid. We've also deployed nine New Zealand Defence Force members to Europe to support intelligence work. One will work with New Zealand's military representative to NATO. 

The Opposition has been calling for the Government to also provide lethal aid. Defence Minister Peeni Henare revealed this week that the option of lethal support had been taken to Cabinet, but it had been declined.

"We have always said that we will continue to consider what more we can do and nothing is off the table given the unprecedented nature of this invasion by Russia," Henare said on Wednesday.

But ACT believes New Zealand is falling behind our usual partners. 

"Our long-term security interest is to be a fully signed-up member of the Western liberal alliance because the world just got a lot more dangerous. New Zealand can't afford to be the weakest link in the West," said ACT defence spokesperson Dr James McDowell.

National's foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee told RNZ: "I think anybody who looks at those pictures, the news footage that appears to be indiscriminate killing of civilians going about their very obviously disrupted daily lives would take a different view now from what we might have taken a few weeks ago".