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Ukrainian soldiers in Avdiivka, Ukraine on 24 January. (Image: RNZ/Anadolu Agency)
Ukrainian soldiers in Avdiivka, Ukraine on 24 January. (Image: RNZ/Anadolu Agency)

The BulletinFebruary 14, 2022

NZ responds to war warning in Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers in Avdiivka, Ukraine on 24 January. (Image: RNZ/Anadolu Agency)
Ukrainian soldiers in Avdiivka, Ukraine on 24 January. (Image: RNZ/Anadolu Agency)

Wellington has told all New Zealanders to leave the country immediately as western embassies are evacuated, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

It’s time for New Zealanders to leave Ukraine immediately. The foreign minister issued the blunt message over the weekend, warning any New Zealanders left in Ukraine that they won’t be able to depend on Wellington to evacuate them if war breaks out. Russian troops have been massed on the Ukrainian border since before Christmas, but New Zealanders in Kyiv told One News that “things seem to have taken a bit of a turn” over the past few days and they’re now booked on commercial flights to leave. Many can’t come back to New Zealand directly because MIQ remains a challenge.

“The continuing and unprecedented build-up of Russian military forces on its border with Ukraine is deeply concerning. Aotearoa calls on Russia once more to take immediate steps to reduce tensions and the risk of a severe miscalculation,” foreign minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement.

With a pandemic raging, a major international crisis is the last thing many people want right now. Embassies are being evacuated from the country, with Canada and Australia pulling back their diplomats over the weekend to Lviv, a city in the country’s far west further away from Russian tanks. New Zealand doesn’t maintain an embassy in Ukraine. As the diplomats leave, Nato is pushing heavy military hardware east. Meanwhile, Russia has started massive life-fire military exercises both north of Ukraine in its ally of Belarus and south on the Black Sea. As The Guardian reports, the Russian president has made a list of demands to end the standoff: He wants Nato to leave eastern Europe and Ukraine to officially recognise Russian control over the Crimean peninsula, which Russia invaded and annexed in 2014. Vladimir Putin’s ambition is to reestablish Russian influence over eastern Europe. To which the US, its Nato allies and the democracies of eastern Europe have responded with a nyet.

What does this mean for New Zealand? The Bulletin turned to Robert Patman, international relations professor at the University of Otago, for answers. In a major way, the crisis highlights one of New Zealand’s main foreign police ambitions. If one of the few countries to every give up its nuclear weapons is invaded by a neighbour, it starts to shred New Zealand’s campaign to ban weapons of mass destruction.

“NZ is non-nuclear power and Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in December 1994, in return for full Russian recognition of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. In 2014, Russia breeched international law by annexing Crimea. In 2022, Putin’s regime is poised to further break international law in a bid to create a sphere of influence in east Europe,” said Patman.

“This is a Munich moment and the crisis is not just about Ukraine.”

The road to peace. The New York Times’ Morning newsletter has looked at an emerging “alliance of autocracies” that sees the current chaos in Ukraine as a positive sign for the future. While there’s a view that the situation might just be a Russian bluff to get concessions out of a distracted west, that hasn’t stopped European leaders from pondering what they can give up to get a diplomatic solution.

The Economist (soft paywall) has written about French president Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion last week that “Finlandisation” might be a good approach. If the east vs west showdown in Ukraine isn’t enough of a cold war throwback, Macron’s proposal is right out of the 1940s. The idea is that Ukraine would be officially neutral, balanced between Russia and the west. Though as many have warned, the idea might deter an invasion, but it would put Ukraine firmly under Russian control. Even in Finland, the good old days of Finlandisation are seen as no such thing. The coming week will likely tell us much about Ukraine’s fate and the limits of western power.

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