Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's message to Russian President Vladimir Putin amid Ukraine war crime accusations

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a message for her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin: "Russia will be held to account". 

Her comments came after Ukraine accused Russia of war crimes in the town of Bucha just outside the capital Kyiv, where a mass grave has been discovered a month after the area was taken over by Russian troops. 

Even before Bucha, Ukraine and its Western allies accused Russian forces of targeting civilians indiscriminately, citing the bombing in the southern port of Mariupol of a maternity hospital and a theater marked as sheltering children.

Russia has denied the Ukrainian allegations of war crimes, brushing off footage and photographs showing bodies strewn across the streets in Bucha as "yet another provocation" by the Ukrainian authorities. 

More details on the process to charge Russia with war crimes can be found here.

Ardern announced on Monday that New Zealand will respond with fresh sanctions against the Russian Federation, which will be laid out this week. 

"The reports of Ukrainian civilians who had been killed, raped and severely wounded by Russian troops is beyond reprehensible," Ardern said at her post-Cabinet press conference. 

"Russia must answer to the world for what they've done. It goes without saying that these atrocities are against international law."

Ardern said New Zealand has joined the international community in referring Russia to the International Criminal Court and is supporting prosecutors in their investigations into all alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine. 

"Certainly, what we as an international community are seeing are evidence of war crimes at the hands of Russia," Ardern said. 

"When it comes to then going through the process of determining that that is indeed what has occurred based on the evidence we've seen, that is something that we are supporting a formal process around. 

"Ultimately, it is for the International Criminal Court to make that determination but I think the evidence is there and New Zealand is supporting the prosecutors and gathering that evidence and making sure that Russia is held to account."

Ardern stopped short of labelling Putin a war criminal, as her United States counterpart Joe Biden has done

"I'm not the judge in the International Criminal Court," Ardern said. "But every piece of evidence points to the fact that there are war crimes being committed by Russia in Ukraine at the hands of the President, Vladimir Putin."

Last week the Government dispatched nine New Zealand Defence Force analysts to Britain and Belgium to assist with the response to Russia's full-scale invasion of its former Soviet neighbour, which began on February 24. 

The Defence Force will also help European partners by gathering intelligence about the war during their night time hours, "taking advantage of the time zone difference". 

The week before that, the Government announced a $5 million donation to NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] for non-lethal military aid to support Ukraine. It would be primarily directed to the NATO Trust Fund which provides fuel, military rations, communications and military first aid kits to support Ukraine. 

The Defence Force also provided 1066 body armour plates to the Ukrainian forces, along with 473 helmets and 571 camouflage vests. 

The Government has so far spent more than $10 million supporting Ukraine and so far 252 visas have been granted for the family members of Ukrainians in New Zealand. 

The Government first responded to the invasion in February by banning the export of goods intended for use by the Russian and Belarus military and security forces, and imposing travel bans.

The Government then joined its allies by imposing sanctions on Russians associated with Putin.

The Russia Sanctions Act gives the Government power to freeze the assets of Putin and 12 members of his Security Council, as well as prohibit their vessels and aircraft. The law also bans certain people and companies from moving their money and assets to New Zealand to escape sanctions imposed by other countries. 

So far, 460 individuals and entities have so far been targeted in the sanctions, and more will be announced. 

"Cabinet considered further measures we can take to support Ukraine which will send a strong message to Russia," Ardern said on Monday.

"We'll provide updates across the course of this week."