Ukraine war: Prime Minister Christopher Luxon unwilling to commit to expelling Russian Ambassador despite previously calling for it

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has been unwilling to commit to a previous National Party call to expel the Russian Ambassador from New Zealand in response to the war in Ukraine.

Despite his party's clear position pre-election, Luxon now says the new Government needs time to make decisions and wouldn't make the commitment.

Since the weeks after Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, National has said Ambassador Georgii Zuev should be made to leave the country.

In September last year, as Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened the use of nuclear weapons, National's foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry Brownlee said the Ambassador's presence in New Zealand "is completely untenable with the ongoing atrocities and escalation of Russia’s war on Ukraine."

Newshub questioned Luxon on the election campaign this September on whether he would ask the Russian Ambassador to leave if he was elected to Government.

"We are not going to be able to do any business with there and it sends a very strong message back to Russia that we are not supportive of their actions in Ukraine."

Asked if that meant the Ambassador was gone after October 14, presuming he was elected, Luxon replied: "That has been our position and our policy".

On Monday, after being sworn in as Prime Minister, Newshub asked Luxon when the new Government would expel the Russian Ambassador.

"You've just got to let us form a Government and have our first Cabinet meetings and we'll work our way through those issues," he said.

He wouldn't commit to it despite being asked directly if he would.  

"We'll work our way through those issues... we need to come together as a Cabinet and sequence a series of actions and decisions that we're making."

The new Cabinet is expected to meet for the first time on Tuesday.

The ACT Party, one of the three coalition parties in the new Government, has also previously called for Zuev to be expelled. New Zealand First's Winston Peters is the new Foreign Affairs Minister.

Earlier this year, the Russian Embassy told Newshub that the "final decision and sovereign right to expel the Ambassador (and to enjoy reciprocal measures) is with Wellington.

While the former Labour Government suspended bilateral foreign ministry engagement with Russia after its invasion – on top of a suite of other measures, like sanctions and travel bans – it refused to expel the Ambassador.

Nanaia Mahuta, the Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, held to the line that doing so would risk Russia retaliating and expelling New Zealand's own representation in Russia. She said having our own Ambassador in Moscow meant diplomatic channels could remain open.

Newshub revealed last December that despite keeping the Ambassador in New Zealand to keep diplomatic channels open, Mahuta hadn't met with him at all since the war broke out. There had only been meetings between Zuev and officials.  

Brownlee at the time said the minister should have been in contact with Zuev if he was still in the country and it was an "extremely odd position" to suggest only diplomats should be meeting with him.

"It does beg the question about why the Russian Ambassador is still here. If we've cut off diplomatic relations, send the guy home, do something that at least tells him directly we don't approve of the way they're behaving."