Ukraine invasion: Why NZ has 'a lot of skin in the game' when it comes to the result of the Russia conflict

A New Zealand international affairs expert has warned if Russia claims victory in their war against Ukraine, it could have a dramatic impact on our ability to trade. 

It's now been more than 100 days since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, a conflict that has killed thousands and displaced millions more. 

The Kremlin calls the invasion a "special military operation" to disarm Ukraine and rid it of radical anti-Russian nationalists, but Ukraine and its allies have dismissed that as a baseless pretext for the war.

Russia is slowly gaining momentum and ground in the war, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy telling Luxembourg's parliament on Thursday (local time) Russia currently occupies about 20 percent of their territory.

"We have to defend ourselves against almost the entire Russian army. All combat-ready Russian military formations are involved in this aggression," he said, adding that the frontline of battle now stretches more than 1000 kilometres. 

A key part of Ukraine's early success in pushing Russian forces back has been the procurement of weapons from Western countries. 

New Zealand has also been providing aid to Ukraine in the form of military aid and humanitarian support, so far providing $16.6 million as well as deploying members of the Defence Force.

The University of Otago's international relations professor Robert Patman praised New Zealand's support, but said our involvement means we have a lot riding on the outcome of the war.  

"The reason we've got a lot of skin in this game is that this conflict is not just about Ukraine, it's about whether an authoritarian state can overthrow a democratically elected Government," Patman explained. 

"As a liberal democracy, we obviously can't be indifferent to that. If Putin managed to succeed in capturing a large part of Ukraine, he'd probably offer a bit of a rest before resuming his territorial ambitions.

"All the neighbours around Ukraine are convinced that Putin's ambitions are not confined to Ukraine."

Patman said if Russia was to win the war, it could affect our ability to trade. 

"New Zealand has a lot of skin in this game because we're a small player, but we're active globally. We trade with more than 100 countries and we depend on rule of law internationally," he told Newshub. 

"If the rules-based system is effectively overturned by the idea that right is right, that would make our situation very complicated, to say the least, and would be a defeat for the ideas that this country and New Zealand represent." 

The University of Otago's international relations professor Robert Patman
The University of Otago's international relations professor Robert Patman Photo credit: Newshub

New Zealand has been a nuclear-free country since 1987 and Patman said that idea also ties us to Ukraine.

"They're a non-nuclear power after they gave up nuclear weapons in 1994," he said. "A key part of New Zealand's foreign policy is its support for non-nuclear security." 

Professor of international law at the University of Waikato, Alexander Gillespie, also praised New Zealand's efforts in helping Ukraine.

"I think the New Zealand approach has been very good and for a country which has historically steered away from such engagement, I think the Government's done the right thing," Gillespie told Newshub.

"We've acted consistently and synchronously with other partner countries in terms of military support, humanitarian support, even support for the War Crimes Tribunal. We are all doing the right steps. 

"The main thing is just to make sure that as this group moves forward, we stay as part of that scrum. And I see no evidence just that we're breaking from it and that's a good thing."

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday (local time) a total of 4149 Ukrainian civilians had been confirmed killed, with almost 5000 injured, though it noted actual figures are likely much higher.