Ukraine invasion: Jacinda Ardern, National, ACT disagree with Rawiri Waititi calling New Zealand 'puppet' of United States

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Rawiri Waititi's suggestion New Zealand is a "puppet" of the United States in responding to the war in Ukraine has been lashed by the Opposition.

The Prime Minister is also among the politicians on Tuesday saying they disagree with Waititi's comment, which came after the Government last week announced new support for Ukraine as it fights back against Russia's invasion.

ACT's David Seymour has likened the comment to that of "conspiracy theorists". 

Waititi told Te Ao Mārama the situation had come about due to the "politics of America, NATO, and other countries".

"Are we puppets for America? Our actions say so," the party co-leader said.

He went on to suggest New Zealand stay out of the Ukraine conflict and not "stick our noses in other people's business". 

Those comments were criticised last week by Ukrainians in New Zealand, who said it "is our business too" as Russia's aggression is undermining international rules and has had global effects, such as by disrupting supply chains.

Waititi's co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer attempted to explain the position on Tuesday.

"What Te Pāti Māori's stance on this is that we believe we should be focusing on home. We are not a supporter of doing war or being part of wars for other nations. We think that we should be taking more of a diplomatic role and supporting peace. That has always been our stance."

She said the party would always support a peaceful stance

"I'm from Parihaka. That is always going to be my default position."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern disagreed with Waititi's suggestion New Zealand is a puppet of the United States. She also said the conflict in Ukraine is only a result of Russia's actions.

"The illegal war in Ukraine is simply because Russia has breached their territorial integrity and invaded it," Ardern told Newshub. "It is a very simple equation."

Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said New Zealand is not a puppet of the United States.

"New Zealand's position has been consistent and very steadfast in terms of Russia's illegal, unprovoked actions that contravene the UN charter internationally. New Zealand's actions have been to support Ukraine, its territorial integrity and sovereignty and the ability to defend itself. And that's the basis upon which we have offered our support."

She said it is important for a country like New Zealand to support Ukraine, despite it being thousands of kilometres away. 

"It's the principle of the matter. We're a small country. We have to defend international rules and norms and uphold the UN Charter, because if similar actions happened in our own region, we would be absolutely consistent in looking to the international community if on any of those fronts those interests were breached."

National's foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said what Waititi was suggesting is "not at all true". 

"New Zealand's operated an independent foreign policy for quite some time," he said. "The fact that we do tend to be on the same side of an argument with countries that have similar values to us - democracy, freedom - it doesn't make us a puppet."

He said New Zealand is concerned about the Ukrainians "whose lives have been completely turned upside down by a Communist despot". 

National associate foreign affairs spokesperson Simon O'Connor said of Waititi: "I think he has no idea what he's talking about."

ACT leader Seymour said Waititi's comments sound like "some of the craziest conspiracy theorists that occasionally try to get into my inbox and get deleted".

"I think the way that the liberal democratic world has rallied around Ukraine against what is clearly an aggressor and quite a brutal aggressor, not only of the Ukrainian people but often his own people, is something that's really given me a lot of heart," said Seymour.

"The democratic world really has rallied behind some really important values, human rights, the kinds of things that you would think Rawiri Waititi would stand up to."

He doesn't believe many people will take Waititi too seriously.

Green Party foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said her party supported humanitarian aid going to Ukraine because of the large number of displaced people.

However, she said it doesn't back money allocated by the Government going directly to the "war effort" without first having a parliamentary debate.

"It did seem like a diplomatic move to get in with the likes of the EU. We don't normally go to war without a proper public engagement," she said.

"We need to focus on humanitarian aid when it comes to any nation facing war and facing displacement at the level that Ukraine is."

When the Government announced $5 million to a NATO fund for non-lethal military assistance in March, Ghahraman told RNZ it appeared to be a "diplomatic nod" and an attempt to be part of the Coalition of the Willing. 

"That $5 million could have gone to aid where it would immediately be saving lives ... versus us ticking-the-box of being in the NATO circle whilst giving very little by way of actually helping people in this conflict."

The Government last week announced it is sending $1.85 million to the World Food Programme to address global food insecurity worsened by the Ukrainian conflict as well as $1.85 million to the NATO Trust fund for non-lethal military equipment and supplies for Ukraine's self-defence.

New Zealand is also extending its deployment of Defence Force personnel in the United Kingdom training Ukrainian soldiers until July 2023. Other roles for the NZDF in Europe supporting Ukraine are also being extended. However, no New Zealander will enter Ukraine. 

Aotearoa has provided $11.35 million to the NATO Trust Fund for non-lethal military assistance, $7.5 million to contribute to weapons and ammunition procurement by the United Kingdom, and $4.1 million for commercial satellite access for the Ukrainian Defence Intelligence. We've also sent NZDF equipment to Ukraine.

Overall, $7.93 million has been provided in humanitarian assistance for refugees and those still in Ukraine. Other money has gone to the International Criminal Court and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

We've also placed sanctions on Russians connected to the Kremlin and its war in Ukraine. Te Pāti Māori supported the legislation allowing that.

Waititi said at the time that the legislation "recognises the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, which has been undermined by Russia and their allies". 

"Upholding the international rule of law around territorial integrity is important for all sovereign peoples, including indigenous peoples and tangata whenua."

However, he said New Zealand should be "more consistent in applying sanctions", questioning why New Zealand didn't condemn the United States for invading Middle Eastern nations. 

"Rather than condemn the United States for their illegal, imperial invasion, we've supported them with troops, with training, with intelligence. This must end. Aotearoa should not be in servitude to any imperial power."