Government problem with Russia – Winston Peters

Appointing Winston Peters to the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs was always going to be a risk for the Jacinda Ardern led government. Problems are already emerging, over Peters’ and Russia.

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff (Opinion): Winston Peters’ Russian trade deal hopes could cost New Zealand elsewhere

Anyone who follows international events will not have been surprised when the British Government began calling for action this week over the poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter in London.

More than a week ago the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, stood in Parliament to warn of sanctions and punishment, suggesting that British officials may snub the upcoming football World Cup and that Russia was “a malign and disruptive force”.

So it was extremely strange that days later our own Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, an avowed Anglophile – he has called for a pan-Commonwealth free trade bloc – would go on television on Saturday and appear to question Russian involvement in other controversial events, the downing of a commercial jet over Ukraine and interference in the 2016 US election.

New Zealand, he said, was “deadly serious” about a free trade deal with Russia, accusing the European Union of “attacking” New Zealand agricultural markets.

That conflict between EU and Russian trade interests would have caused problems at any time, but now with the escalating problems between the UK and Russia especially so.

After calls from Britain, Peters has now condemned the nerve agent attack, which he acknowledged was “transported from Russia”.

But his position on Russia – both now and in the weeks following the formation of the Labour-led Government – has caused confusion within the diplomatic community.

Why on earth would he go there? What is driving a position which he must know is highly controversial for many of New Zealand’s trading partners? Does he represent the views of the New Zealand Government?

It is his job to represent the views of the New Zealand Government.

Ardern sort of defended Peters after his comments in the weekend: “It strikes me that a lot of the conversation the deputy prime minister was having was around … New Zealand being able to access trade agreements in a fair way, relative to other countries.”

But it must be tricky for Ardern to manage her Minister, who must consider himself her senior in every way but as deputy PM (and he will be acting PM when Ardern is on maternity leave).

Peters’ comments on Russia have now had to be managed by Ardern at least twice.

First when she assured the German president during a press conference in November that a trade deal with Europe was a much higher priority than one with Russia. Then again on Monday when she said Peters was simply responding to questions he was being asked.

Ardern has used a similar explanation when defending the fact that she repeatedly talked about New Zealand’s offer to take Manus Island refugees, raising tension with the Australians: she was just answering questions being asked of her.

As an excuse it makes both the Prime Minister and now the Foreign Minister seem rather helpless in the face of the media.

Anyone who has interviewed Peters, ever, knows he is capable of steering away from questions that do not interest him.

It also appears that Labour did not appreciate how controversial it would be to publicly state that as a Government it would seek a free trade deal with Russia.

While Ardern has now repeatedly reiterated that a trade deal with the EU is the top priority, the initial moves gave greater prominence to negotiating with Moscow.

Ardern seems to have a problem controlling Peters and his own agenda.

At a time when US President Donald Trump is introducing tariffs which could spark a global trade war, New Zealand could find itself on the wrong side of a battle between Russia and the rest of Europe if Peters continues to push for the deal.

Although Russia and its allies offer significant potential as a growth market, it seems foolish to risk the opportunity to strike a deal with the EU, or Britain.

Without the posioned spy scandal this would be a serious potential clash between Peters and the interest of the Government and New Zealand. With the escalation between the UK and Russia, more so.

Stuff – Russian spy scandal: Britain reaches out to New Zealand

British diplomats took the extraordinary step on Tuesday of briefing New Zealand media on the Salisbury spy attack after its prime minister Theresa May issued an ultimatum to Moscow over the poisoning.

The briefing looks to be part of a world wide effort by Britain to stir up condemnation of Moscow over the attack against a back drop of what May labelled a “a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression”.

Britain is looking to countries including New Zealand to join possible reprisals against Russia.

That would not help trade talks between NZ and Russia.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the New Zealand Government had grave concerns. “How this military grade nerve agent was transported from Russia and released abroad is the key issue here, and warrants urgent international investigation,” Peters said.

Peters said use of chemical weapons was “repugnant”.

“We share and support the concerns expressed by other nations about such use of chemical weapons,” he said.

Perhaps Theresa May will force Peters into line. Ardern seemed to be struggling to do so.

It was said the appointing him as Minister of Foreign Affairs would allow Peters to swan around the world with prestige and no pressure. That might have worked if there were no serious international issues to deal with, and if Peters didn’t have a Russian trade agenda.

It has become quite tricky, and the UK-Russia issue seems set to escalate.

It could become even trickier when Ardern goes on leave for three months and Peters becomes acting Prime Minister.

36 Comments

  1. lurcher1948

     /  March 15, 2018

    Our friend is now our enemy
    and our former enemies are now our friends

    • Well, lookie here then. Breaking news, Brits tell Peters to pull his head in:

      The United Kingdom has fired a warning shot at New Zealand over its plans to create closer ties with Russia, in the wake of a nerve agent attack.

      British High Commissioner to New Zealand Laura Clarke suggested an FTA with Russia, in the wake of the use of a chemical weapon on an ex-Russian spy and his daughter, could impact FTAs with the EU and the UK.

      Clarke told Radio New Zealand talks about free trade agreements (FTA) with the EU and UK “never happen in a vacuum”.

      https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/102278908/british-high-commissioner-tells-nz-to-prioritise-trade-deals-in-wake-of-nerve-agent-attack

      • Gezza

         /  March 15, 2018

        Unfair tactic – she’s a hottie.

        • Gezza

           /  March 15, 2018

          And that’s a very direct threat she’s making to NZ.

          • Gezza

             /  March 15, 2018

            So I’ve gone off her now. Loo – things to do. Can’t hang around here all day. See yiz.

          • She’s a Tory, we’re like that If you heard him on Saturday on the Nation, he went very weird, very rogue and very love some of that Russian money

            • Gezza

               /  March 15, 2018

              Yeah – well she should watch who she’s threatening & remember we can always send a 50 year old C130 over there (with one or two stopovers for repairs) & bomb a bloody desolated beach if they want to get stroppy with us! 😡

            • You tell em Gezza

      • lurcher1948

         /  March 15, 2018

        So what this hottie is saying jump through hoops and we might reward you, damn pommie

  2. lurcher1948

     /  March 15, 2018

    I hope New Zealand doesn’t get dragged into armed conflict over a Russian traitor who possible death is of no interest to most New Zealanders.We don’t like traitors anymore than Russia does…just saying

    • Traveller

       /  March 15, 2018

      We don’t despatch agents to murder our traitors using deadly nerve gas. Just saying.

      • lurcher1948

         /  March 15, 2018

        Yes but was it Russia, and was it Russian nerve gas as May didn’t put up so weres the proof May, shades of WMD and that lead…nowhere

    • unitedtribes2

       /  March 15, 2018

      You mean like the first world war.

  3. Gezza

     /  March 15, 2018

    Peters will have to go. 😡

    Who else have they got? 😳

    • lurcher1948

       /  March 15, 2018

      You Gezza, you have a good head on your shoulders,step up to the mark and do your duty for gods own New Zealand…just saying

      • Gezza

         /  March 15, 2018

        Can’t – got a book underway about my stream & a wildlife unit to run.
        Thinking about also doing a book about Corky.

        • Traveller

           /  March 15, 2018

          A Corker of a Curmudgeonly Chap ?

        • lurcher1948

           /  March 15, 2018

          Can you class one page about Corky a book,that’s stretching the truth.

          • Gezza

             /  March 15, 2018

            If I go ahead with it Aliens will be involved.

            • Gezza

               /  March 15, 2018

              But enuf of these leedle jokules, Lurch, my good man.
              While I thought the Hon Winston Raymond Peters PC got off to a good start on Q&A last weekend, by the time the interview finished there had been quite a bit of incoherent rambling. This very Trumpian & not the best thing for a Foreign Minister to be good at.

  4. duperez

     /  March 15, 2018

    It’s all just a game and New Zealand is just a piece of flotsam being buffeted around by the storms.

    New Zealand comes out and says Russia is criminally blowing planes out of the sky and murdering people in broad daylight in foreign countries and so we will have nothing to do with them and any trade deals with them are off. And then follow through on that.

    New Zealand doesn’t condemn Russians blowing planes out of the sky and murdering people in foreign countries and we continue with trade deals and other relationships with them.

    People overseas get upset about Russia doing nasty things, and say so. Some are so upset they’re threatening to cut back their entourages to the Football World Cup.

    Theresa May will force Peters into line? There may be are a few other things on her mind.

    “Despite sanctions placed upon Russia by the EU, British-Russian trade has increased significantly in the first six months of 2017 in items permitted under the sanctions measures.

    Russian exports to the United Kingdom increased by 20.7 percent in January and February, and accounted for US$1.16 billion, whereas imports from the United Kingdom rose by 27.9 percent, and amounted to US$515 billion.

    https://www.russia-briefing.com/news/russia-united-kingdom-2017-trade-28.html/

    http://www.bbc.com/news/business-43384726

  5. Blazer

     /  March 15, 2018

    its clearly a manufactured excuse for a no talent England team to boycott the… World Cup.

    • Ray

       /  March 15, 2018

      See, you can do good work when you are not following the Official Labour Line.

    • High Flying Duck

       /  March 15, 2018

      But this is their year!

    • adamsmith1922

       /  March 15, 2018

      Were you born stupid, or does your love for socialism make you that way

  6. David

     /  March 15, 2018

    If National were pushing for an FTA with Russia at the moment the left would absolutely lose the plot in condemnation…and rightly so.

  7. David

     /  March 15, 2018

    Putting to one side my English bias and look at it from NZ inc perspective, since Winston has decided Russia is his greatest friend/benefactor seemingly unilaterally with no obvious support from anyone sane it has set back to zero any chance of an EU deal (unlikely anyway but we might have got a bit better access somewhere) and now it could cost us a very lucrative deal with the the 5th biggest economy in the world, the UK.
    There will never be a better opportunity to do a deal with the UK as now when they are exiting the EU and want to show the world they are open for business and if we lose that chance because Ardern is too distracted/weak to get Winston to row back then that is bloody stupid and economically kamikazeeish

    • Blazer

       /  March 15, 2018

      the U.K dropped NZ like a hot potato…when they joined the..E.U.

      • David

         /  March 15, 2018

        Sure they did 30 years ago because it suited them economically, now NZ would be the winner if we could do a deal. Think of it as doing something for us not them

        • Gezza

           /  March 15, 2018

          We need to get something definite in writing first.

          • David

             /  March 15, 2018

            I think we had a verbal agreement today and the EU have binned us, seems really dumb to be on Russia’s side both morally and economically. and it’s hard to find a reason why

            • Gezza

               /  March 15, 2018

              Ok well, to start with, unless you’re actually threatened, like we just have been, Winnie’s been around long enuf to know:

              – not wise to just automatically accept a British PM’s word that someone is a threat to peace cos has weapons of mass destruction
              – not facing attack or threat from Russia ourselves
              – UK not exactly got a track record of supporting NZ when RW attacked & crewman murdered here by the French Secret Service
              – NZ young people subject to stricter visit conditions than other way round
              – keeping our trade eggs in too few baskets not a great idea maybe

              Could be some of the reasons, I guess? He has condemned the attack.

      • adamsmith1922

         /  March 15, 2018

        So out of angst over something 40 years ago, which overall benefited NZ in the long run, you would cut us out from a lucrative trade deal to cosy up to a nasty thug in Putin. Strange view

  8. BobJ

     /  March 15, 2018

    With Winston’s love of Russia it does raise the question of what they might have on him, has he got a file he doesn’t want revealed?

  1. #Skripal and #Brexit – how UK put pressure on another country to prevent free trade discussions with #Russia – fighting stuff