Christopher Luxon softens stance on calling for Russian Ambassador to be expelled, defers to Winston Peters 

The Prime Minister is continuing to soften his language on his previous call for the Russian Ambassador to be expelled from New Zealand, saying it was something that National was calling for prior to the sanctions regime being introduced in March 2022.   

But Christopher Luxon was speaking about an expulsion sending a "very strong message back to Russia" as recently as in September, when Newshub asked if he would get rid of the Ambassador after October 14, presuming he was elected.   

"That has been our position and our policy," Luxon said at the time.  

He's now leaving it up to Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters to look at.

National began calling for the expulsion of Ambassador Georgii Zuev soon after Russia illegally invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The party continued to do so over the following months, including in September last year.   

After being sworn in as Prime Minister late last month, Luxon said the new Government needed some time to work through issues and wouldn't commit to expelling Zuev.   

"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."   

Asked again on Thursday when he would expel the Ambassador, Luxon said Peters would look at it.   

"I called for it at a time when we didn't have the Sanctions Bills in place and we didn't have support to Ukraine at that place in time as well. It is something now that the new Foreign Minister can look at."   

When it was put to Luxon he maintained his call even after the sanctions legislation was passed, Luxon said: "Yes, as I said, our new Foreign Minister will look at that and take advice on it."   

Newshub asked Peters on Wednesday if there had been any discussion about the Russian Ambassador.   

"Not yet, no," he said.   

Peters said he wouldn't make up foreign policy "on the hoof" and would be briefed.   

On Thursday, Peters was asked again if it was his intention to expel Zuev.   

"If it was, I would have told you, wouldn't I?" he replied.   

ACT, a party in the Coalition Government, has also previously called for the Russian Ambassador to be kicked out of New Zealand.   

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

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta didn't expel Zuev, saying doing so would risk Russia retaliating and expelling New Zealand's own representation in Moscow. She said having New Zealand's own Ambassador in Moscow meant diplomatic channels could remain open.   

The 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.   

Newshub revealed last December 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.     

Then-National Party foreign affairs spokesperson Gerry 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."