Ukraine invasion: Admiral says NZ is no longer neutral, stops short of saying we're at war

A defence force admiral says New Zealand's position has shifted from neutral but stopped short of saying we are at war amid the Ukraine invasion. 

The war is raging on with Russia refocusing its efforts on Tuesday, moving east after failing to take the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. 

It comes after the New Zealand Government on Monday stepped up its efforts to support Ukraine, including an extra $13.1 million for military, legal and human rights support. Fifty personnel and a Defence Force C-130 Hercules aircraft are also being deployed to Europe to provide further support. 

Rear Admiral James Gilmour told AM on Tuesday the support shows New Zealand's stance is shifting. 

When asked whether New Zealand is technically at war, Gilmour said that's not for him to say but he conceded we are no longer neutral. 

"I will leave that to the crown law and the advice of the Government but from my perspective, I think it's reasonably clear that our status as a neutral country has shifted," he said. 

The admiral also said he feels worried for Ukraine and believes the only way the war will be defused is if Russian President Vladimir Putin thinks he's won. 

"I must confess to being worried and feeling a little bleak with regards to great outcomes for Ukraine," Gilmour said. 

"I think at the centre of this being defused is being able to provide Vladimir Putin something that looks like he's won. 

"Ultimately I worry that yes, ceding some territory might be the only way it can happen, but that's a decision for Ukraine and we don't know if that would be enough in the long run anyway."

New Zealand's latest support follows the deployment of nine New Zealand Defence Force analysts to the UK and Belgium to assist Ukraine. The Defence Force is also helping European partners by gathering intelligence about the war during their nighttime hours.

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

Last month New Zealand donated $5 million to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to support Ukraine with non-lethal military aid.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, meaning there was no legal obligation for NATO countries to defend it after Russia invaded in February. Russia has long sought assurances that its former Soviet neighbour would not join the military alliance.

While New New Zealand is not a member of NATO, it is one of a few countries referred to as "partners across the globe" that contribute to NATO-led defence operations. 

The Government also passed the Russia Sanctions Act, giving it 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 travelling to New Zealand or moving their money and assets to escape sanctions imposed by other countries. 

The Government ramped up its response last week by slapping Russian goods with a 35 percent import tax over alleged war "atrocities" committed in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, where a mass grave was discovered a month after the area was taken over by Russian troops. 

The Government also banned the export of industrial products such as ICT equipment and engines.

Alongside 41 other countries, New Zealand announced its support for the International Criminal Court's investigation into war crimes committed by Russia, and provided funding to the investigation.

Russia responded by blacklisting New Zealand. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, along with all MPs, spy chiefs and Defence Force leaders, were banned from entering Russia in retaliation for sanctions. The same applied to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and 228 other influential Australians.