New Zealand gives military aid to Ukraine, PM says weapons not off the table

New Zealand has answered Ukraine’s call for military assistance and while it has stopped short of sending lethal equipment such as weapons, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that was not yet off the table completely.

Ardern announced New Zealand would give $5 million of funding and surplus stock of used helmets and body armour after a request of assistance from Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in a phone call with him on the weekend.

The $5 was for non-lethal military assistance, which would be done through the Nato trust fund for Ukraine.It brings New Zealand’s contribution so far to $11 million.

The funding would be used for fuel, military rations, communications and military first aid kits.

While other countries have sent missiles and weapons over for Ukraine, Ardern said that would be a significant departure from New Zealand’s usual practice.

“We haven’t yet made the decision to add those forms of support. It hasn’t been removed from the table, but it would be a change in approach.”

Until now, New Zealand’s contribution to Ukraine had been in sanctions and humanitarian funding: so far it has given $6 million, mostly through the Red Cross.

Asked what prompted the switch to military aid rather than humanitarian, Ardern said it had been considered for some time. “It’s not a decision we take lightly, but we consider what is happening in Ukraine is a massive disruption to the rules-based order.”

She said it was the first time New Zealand had provided direct funding to a third party organisation for non-lethal military assistance of this kind.

Ukraine had not specifically asked New Zealand for weapons but had put out a “general” request to other countries to help out and was also in need of equipment for those fighting for Ukraine – a group that includes Ukrainian civilians as well as an increasing number of foreigners travelling to Ukraine to fight.

Chief of Defence Force Air Marshall Kevin Short said New Zealand had offered the equipment a few weeks ago, but the amount on hand was so small it had been turned down. That had now changed and Ukraine was looking for as much as it could get.

He said the Defence Force did have “very small numbers” of Javelin missiles but it could not get more quickly – it would take about three years to replace them.

The decision to send non-lethal equipment was criticised by Act leader David Seymour who said New Zealand remained “the weakest link in the West”.

“The announcement today of $5 million is pathetic when we have Javelin missiles sitting unused. It’s a desperate situation in Ukraine and they need weapon support as they fight for their lives.

He said other countries were replacing their stock of Javelin missiles with the more up to date Saab Next Generation Light Anti Tank Weapons which have a much shorter order time and New Zealand should do more.

The Government has also imposed sanctions on Russia and those associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Monday, Fonterra’s chief executive Miles Hurrell also announced the cooperative was exiting its businesses in Russia.

“Following careful consideration of the impact on our people and our long-term plans for the Russian market, we will now close our office in Moscow, redeploying staff where possible, and withdraw from our joint venture Unifood.”

Ardern said she had not yet been advised of any reaction from Russia to the sanctions, but Russia had imposed travel and other restrictions on other countries and leaders. “It will not be a surprise to me if we are added onto those lists. I’m not intending to travel to Russia at any point soon anyway.”

Short said work was underway on getting the equipment to Ukraine, possibly by a NZ Defence Force air transport or in conjunction with Australia. He said the surplus stock was available now – it was stock that was being replaced with new equipment for the New Zealand forces. It consisted of1066 body armour plates, 473 helmets and 571 camouflage vests and harness webbing.

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