Today’s cabinet meeting having agreed to legislation on targeted Russian sanctionsNew Zealand set to circumvent its normal United Nations-based response to international crises.

The Russia Sanctions Bill will authorize additional sanctions against Russia, including the ability to:

  • freeze assets in New Zealand

  • prevent people and businesses from transferring their money and assets to New Zealand to evade sanctions imposed by other countries

  • prevent super yachts, ships and aircraft from entering New Zealand waters or airspace.

The urgent passage of the law this week is justified because Russia is one of the member states of the UN Security Council, which allows it to use its veto power to block any proposed sanctions by the United Nations. ‘UN.

But it’s a sad development, and a break with 30 years of diplomatic history. Since 1991, New Zealand has worked within the framework of the UN and bases its sanctions regimes largely on what the UN has mandated.

On Ukraine, New Zealand took some small additional steps against Russia, such as travel bans and export controls on technologies that may have military value. But this fell short of the actions of his allies and the rapidly worsening situation.

New Zealand must align with its allies

To create a new sanctions regime outside the United Nations system, New Zealand will need to consider a number of important factors, including the scope of the law and its adequacy with the actions of its allies.

Above all, the legislation must recognize that this is a unique situation and must not create a precedent allowing other actions outside the United Nations system. The new law must expressly state why the urgent actions are justified and the objectives it wishes to achieve, and it must include a sunset clause whereby it will expire on a specified date unless expressly renewed.



Read more: Ukraine crisis: How are small states like New Zealand responding in an increasingly anarchic world?


The law must be effective, proportionate and targeted. Anti-Russian hysteria must be avoided. Due process, fairness to those affected and compliance with existing international obligations must take precedence.

Details should be applied to the establishment of a cross-party sanctions committee and monitoring group. The evidence used to justify sanctions must come from reliable and solid sources, which must be as transparent as possible.

Coordination with friends and allies is paramount. It is not a question of how extensive the sanctions imposed by New Zealand are, but rather of ensuring that they are consistent with those of other countries. If there are inconsistencies, they risk being exploited both politically and economically.

Military aid an option

In a normal situation, a “staggered” process of sanctions is used: sanctions start slowly (sporting or cultural events, for example) and escalate (with some diplomatic restrictions) towards increasingly severe trade restrictions prohibiting goods , from luxury to quasi-essential.

Exclusion of airspace, sea zones and even travel restrictions for ordinary citizens may add to the mix as Russia becomes increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. With events already moving so fast, New Zealand is already halfway up the scale.



Read more: As the war in Ukraine drags on, how secure will Putin’s grip on power remain?


Military aid must also be an option. The goal is to help Ukrainians fight for their own freedom, without putting foreign “boots on the ground”. A distinction between lethal and non-lethal aid (such as bulletproof vests, communication equipment, food and medical kit) will have to be made.

Again, the issue is not scale but consistency with friends and allies. The symbolism of such support is important. Complementing Australia’s efforts, for example, would be helpful.

The new law may also have to cover New Zealanders who want to fight in Ukraine – on either side. New Zealanders without dual Ukrainian citizenship are unlikely to gain POW status if captured.

These volunteers will also find themselves in a gray area of ​​national law, as current legislation covering the mercenary activitiesor those looking to go abroad for fight for terrorist groupsis insufficient.

Fighting the Russian invasion of a sovereign country is not an act of terrorism, and some may be prepared to fight without significant financial incentives. The government should clarify the rules – again, in agreement with its friends and allies.

Risk of unintended consequences

Despite what Vladimir Putin proposed, sanctions are not an act of war. It is an unfortunate but sometimes necessary non-military strategy aimed at modifying or ending a country’s harmful actions.

But even if New Zealand and other like-minded countries apply maximum pressure through sanctions, there is no guarantee that Putin will change his policy.



Read more: Russian sanctions are tougher than she could have imagined, and it’s going to get worse


Sanctions have the best chance of success when a country’s leadership feels hurt by pressure from its own citizens – or in Russia’s case, its class of oligarchs, such as the the prime minister hinted today.

Thus, sanctions might work better with Russia than with North Korea. But there is also a risk, if Putin begins to feel this pain, that he will respond in unexpected ways.

The only real certainty lies in the significant collateral economic damage – for Russia and the world, including New Zealand. Everyone will see or feel the impact as economic and diplomatic relations run into turmoil. Currently, however, there is no viable alternative.