Russia, Ukraine war: Supply issues, rather than 'moral reasons', behind NZ not yet sending weapons to Ukraine - ministers

There is no "moral reason" stopping New Zealand from sending weapons to Ukraine, Labour minister David Parker says, with the Foreign Affairs Minister saying there's instead a barrier around supplying it. 

The Government has come under pressure from the Opposition to send weapons to Ukrainian forces fighting off the Russian invasion after it was revealed this week that Defence Minister Peeni Henare took the option of lethal aid to Cabinet, but it was declined.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta participated virtually in a NATO meeting overnight, with those in attendance hearing from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. He pleaded for more support, saying his country needed "weapons, weapons, weapons".

Mahuta, speaking to RNZ on Friday morning after the session, said the international response had included military support, but that countries had to be mindful that many of those fighting for Ukraine are civilians.

"They will need to be trained in the modern military equipment that they are asking for. That is a significant consideration as countries are making pledges to offer a range of supports, including military support, but also it is the immediate access to that equipment." 

She said there is no barrier to providing lethal aid "except for the immediate challenge that New Zealand does not have the supply of equipment like other countries in the region who are closer that can provide supply more quickly".

Quizzed on AM on Friday, Parker said the decision not to yet send lethal aid wasn't due to a "moral reasons".

"We recognise this as an appalling invasion by Russia," he said. "We also recognise that the aid that we give, whether it be armaments or support for how they get their armaments into a theatre or money for them to buy armaments, that all does contribute to the war in a way that can have so-called lethal outcomes."

He said there was an "artificial distinction" being created between non-lethal and lethal aid. 

"Whether the New Zealand forces provide support for getting stuff into theatre or provide the stuff that goes into theatre, it is having an effect on the war, that could have lethal effects."

Parker said New Zealand was a long way away from Ukraine and, unlike other countries sending weapons, he said we don't have a large supply of armaments. 

Newshub has asked the Defence Force how many javelin weapons and missiles New Zealand has in stock.

Australia, our closest neighbour, has sent lethal aid, but Parker said it has "a much bigger army than us". 

"They're a bigger country. We're making a contribution that our partners recognise as appropriate. We're not at all embarrassed to stand up for what it is that we are doing, which is significant."

New Zealand's contributions so far have been non-lethal. It's provided humanitarian aid to support Ukrainians displaced by the war as well as a $5 million contribution to the NATO Trust Fund for fuel, military rations and first aid. Thousands of pieces of body armour, helmets and vests have been donated by New Zealand, while we've also deployed nine Defence Force members to Europe to support intelligence work.

"We don't really see a distinction between helping people defend themselves not being shot by a Russian and giving them something to shoot a Russian. They're both actually involved in things that actually result in the taking or saving of lives."

In choosing whether to provide money to help get equipment to Ukraine or send weapons around the world, Parker said New Zealand was choosing the practical option.

Appearing alongside Parker on AM, National deputy leader Nicola Willis said the Government's reason for not sending lethal aid remained unclear. 

"The minister really needs to be clear: is it because New Zealand doesn't have enough weapons or we don't want to send them? Because the request has come through. Our partners around the world have delivered weapons. Why won't New Zealand? Those missiles aren't doing any good here."

Mahuta told RNZ that New Zealand cannot compete with other countries in terms of providing military aid and had to think about what it could contribute immediately.

"We will need to consider what we can do alongside other international partners. Right now, the big issue is around security of supply and sustainability of supply to immediately response to the requests Ukraine have made."

New Zealand's response to the conflict had been "broad", the minister said, and ministers will continue to consider "the opportunity, where we can, to support the most recent request in terms of military support". 

Mahuta described Kuleba's message to partner nations as "striking and very stark", especially off the back of the atrocities reported from Bucha. Images from the Ukrainian town outside the capital of Kyiv show bodies strewn over streets, corpses tied up and mass graves. 

"New Zealand joined those present on the call to express our absolute concern, but our solidarity to take a range of measures," she said.

Ukraine's Kuleba also asked countries to continue to step up their sanctions, she said. New Zealand expanded the portfolio of Russians and Belarusians being targeted by sanctions, while also putting tariffs on Russian imports. 

According to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade readout, Mahuta told those at the meeting that "Aotearoa New Zealand stands in solidarity with Ukraine, NATO, and our other partners in the face of Putin’s brutal and illegal invasion".

Following the NATO meeting overnight, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said member nations would continue to step up,

"After the invasion, allies stepped up with additional military support, with more military equipment, and it was a clear message from the meeting today that allies should do more and are ready to do more to provide more equipment, and they realise and recognise the urgency," he said.

"We are closely coordinating and discussing these issues with Ukraine, so allies are providing and are willing to do more when it comes to military support."