Russia invasion of Ukraine: Parliament passes Russia Sanctions Act unanimously

Parliament has unanimously passed the historic Russia Sanctions Act that will allow the Government to ramp up actions against Russia over its “brutal and intolerable” invasion of Ukraine.

Emotions ran high at times as politicians worked through the bill under urgency, speaking in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and in anger at the Russian regime behind the war – one MP saying President Vladimir Putin was going “straight to hell” and others calling his actions “barbaric” and an “act of terror”.

“Slava Ukraini!” or glory to Ukraine, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta ended her introductory speech with, referencing the Ukrainian war cry.

It comes two weeks after Russia launched its invasion, with thousands of casualties since and more than two million people forced to flee in what the United Nations has called “Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II”.

Recent developments include Russia bombing what were supposed to be safe passages for displaced people to flee the war zone.

Mahuta said it was the first law of its kind for New Zealand, and allows the Government to ramp up its response to Russia’s “unprovoked, illegal and entirely avoidable” war.

The law provides a framework to impose economic sanctions targeting specific people, and companies, assets and services involved with Russia’s war.

It can include freezing assets, stopping land purchases here, targeting oligarchs and even shutting off airspace to Russian aircraft and waters to superyachts, among other measures.

Mahuta said it was not about targeting people simply for being Russian, rather those who linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine, or who were of economic or strategic importance to Putin’s regime.

This could include family members of key players, Russian Banks, and other countries like Belarus who actively support Russia.

“Our thoughts are with Ukrainians who have borne the brunt of Putin’s violence and who have deeply suffered due to his regime’s callous and abhorrent actions,” Mahuta said.

“We are also thinking of the Russian people who did not choose this fight and do not want this war.

“To the Putin regime – let us be clear. Do what is right and end this invasion. New Zealand continues to call on you to cease fire, withdraw and end this pointless war.”

Multiple international diplomatic efforts with Russia have so far failed, despite global condemnation and mounting sanctions, and Putin has shown no signs of backing down.

New Zealand had been hampered in its ability to follow much of the international community and sanction Russia, lacking an autonomous regime.

Sanctions had been guided by United Nations (UN) resolutions, but Russia has a veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) and blocked such a resolution recently.

Mahuta has said this instance, with a UNSC member itself leading the invasion and “blatantly” breaching international law, showed how the UNSC had “failed”.

A separate, non-binding resolution condemning the invasion had gained support of 141 countries in the General Assembly, with just five opposed.

“New Zealand feels it is appropriate to pass this bill strong in the knowledge it is acting in line with the international community,” she said.

The law would also prevent New Zealand from becoming a “back door” for Russians affected to avoid sanctions in other countries, she said.

Mahuta acknowledged the bill had built on National Party foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee’s own autonomous sanctions bill, which she had previously rejected.

Brownlee said the bill had the full support of his party.

While he wished a regime had been in place so sanctions could have been applied two weeks ago, seeing Mahuta engage with other countries and come to this decision “is a mark of leadership”.

Brownlee said an important aspect of the bill was that it focused on those responsible for the war, and not Russian individuals.

He also acknowledged it was just one part of the response, and in particular there was a need to ramp up humanitarian assistance.

“One thing that cannot be lost is the extreme suffering the people of Ukraine are currently enduring.

“There is a huge movement of people from that country who are terrified for their future. It is the largest movement of refugees seen in the world.”

Act, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori all have said they’d support the bill.

The Green Party sought an amendment to include a reference recognising the role of the United Nations General Assembly.

The first tranche of sanctions will include travel ban extensions and banking restrictions, and should be in place next week, Mahuta said.

The list of those banned from travelling here due to the Ukraine war been published and includes Putin.

The second tranche would take longer to activate and it would involve identifying any more people who should be targeted.

The sanctions could be imposed on people, services, companies, and assets related to those in Russia who were responsible for or associated with the invasion, or that are of economic or strategic relevance to Russia, including oligarchs.

They could also apply to trade, and financial institutions as well as stopping the likes of Russian superyachts, ships and aircraft from entering New Zealand waters or airspace.

A public sanctions register will be set up.

The bill also allows for sanctions to be imposed against other states complicit with Russia’s illegal actions, such as Belarus.

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned New Zealand would not be immune from the fallout linked to international sanctions against Russia.

If followed the United States announcing a ban on buying Russian oil after pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to cut off the imports, which had been a glaring omission in the massive sanctions put in place on Russia over the invasion.

Energy exports have kept a steady stream of cash flowing to Russia despite otherwise severe restrictions on its financial sector.

Ardern said New Zealand had not imported oil from Russia since January last year.

McDonald’s, Estee Lauder, Shell, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have also announced they have suspended operations in Russia.

Asked about Kiwi companies not trading in Russia, Ardern said New Zealand’s business links there was relatively limited.

On moral comparisons on the sanctions when New Zealand continued to seek trade with countries like Saudi Arabia, Ardern said the Government always sought opportunities to discuss issues with human rights.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace says it will be seeking immediate action on sanctions and has joined a peace flotilla heading for Russian billionaire oligarch Alexander Abramov’s luxury Northland lodge in Helena Bay.

The flotilla aims to arrive in Helena Bay on Sunday, where it will call on the Government to immediately “freeze oligarch’s assets” to apply pressure on Putin to end the war on Ukraine.

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