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Ardern was right to hold back on Russia

Written By: - Date published: 9:30 am, April 7th, 2018 - 88 comments
Categories: Europe, International, Russia, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, uk politics - Tags:

Remember a couple of weeks ago when the story de jour was about how Ardern’s failure to deal aggressively with the Russians following the poisoning of a former Russian spy was a miscalculation and a sign of weakness?  Mike Smith covered the issue here and here and warned that a rush to judgment was at best premature.

It did not help Ardern’s critics that MFAT could not find anyone who could be considered a possible spy.  According to the critics heads should have rolled.  If it was the janitor’s head then that would be sufficient according to the logic applied.  But it was really bizarre that Ardern’s rational reliance on the state’s intelligence gathering institutions should be considered to have been a sign of weakness.

Apart from Jacinda the only other politician of world standing who urged caution was Jeremy Corbyn.  He has received similar treatment by the media powers that be.

And it is not as if Jacinda did not go to the edge with her initial response.  She was quoted as saying:

“Outrage at the brazen and callous use of chemical weapons in a UK town is fully justified,” Ms Ardern said in a statement on Friday evening.

“This incident is a serious affront to accepted global rules and norms. The use of chemical weapons in any circumstances is totally repugnant, and New Zealand is deeply disturbed at any use of chemical substances banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

“New Zealand fully supports the sovereign right of the UK to take the action it considers appropriate in response to this violation of international law on its territory. We stand in solidarity with the UK alongside and its other partners.”

Ms Ardern said Russia’s response to the attack has been “cynical, sarcastic and inadequate”.

“There is  no plausible alternative explanation hitherto that this came from anywhere other than Russia and no doubt whatsoever that Russia has serious questions to answer.”

Well there have been further developments.  The conclusion has been reached that Boris Johnson told porkies to the public about the issue.  And the Foreign Office has deleted one of its tweets accusing Russia of being behind the poisoning.

From the Guardian:

Boris Johnson is facing embarrassing questions over his claims that Russia had produced the Salisbury nerve agent after it emerged that the Foreign Office had deleted a tweet blaming Moscow for the attack.

With the foreign secretary already under pressure over his remarks two weeks ago that a Porton Down scientist had been “absolutely categorical” that the novichok had originated in the country, Jeremy Corbyn accused Johnson of “completely exceeding the information he had been given” after the emergence of the deleted tweet.

But Johnson later hit back, accusing the Labour leader of “playing Russia’s game”.

The deletion, immediately seized on by the Russian embassy, has deepened the government’s difficulties after British scientists at the UK’s defence research laboratory announced on Tuesday that they had not established that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal had been made in Russia.

The Russian Embassy in London took great delight in displaying the deleted tweet.  It is amazing how much International Relations is now conducted via Twitter.

The Home Office have claimed that the assessment was made on the basis of intelligence analysis as well as scientific scrutiny of the poison used.  They also claim the tweet misquoted the UK ambassador.  His speech on which the tweet was based said this:

The analysts at Porton Down, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in the UK, established and made clear that this was a military-grade chemical weapon. One of the novichok series; a nerve agent as I said produced in Russia.”

The speech says that the nerve agent was manufactured in Russia and not that the nerve agent used in the attack was manufactured in Russia as claimed by the tweet and by Johnson.  Only an idiot would confuse the two scenarios.  How this happened requires further explanation.

When you look at what Ardern said and what has subsequently transpired it seems her initial statement was perfectly weighted.  A rush to judgment was not justified.

Was it the Russians?  Quite possibly to probably.  Should New Zealand have kicked out a few Russians just in case they might have been spies and because the consensus in some countries is that the Russians must have done it?  Refusing to rush to judgment is the sort of thing that should be applauded, not condemned.

88 comments on “Ardern was right to hold back on Russia ”

  1. Ed 1

    A courageous and independent decision.
    Now we are in an excellent position to do and trade deal with Russia that will make us less dependent on China economically and The US politically.
    Kudos to our government.

    • SPC 1.1

      Sort of, will it depend on a Ukraine-Russia resolution to end sanctions., or will we conclude the work already done and sign a FTA but suspend implementation until then (end of sanctions).

      • dukeofurl 1.1.1

        Are we going to have sanctions on Turkey , even if it was 45 years too late (20 July 1974, but still ongoing) for them invading a commonwealth country Cyprus ?

        As History is often said to repeat, that like Ukraine was after a coup in Nicosia, but this one had ethnic cleansing to boot.

        • SPC

          It’s different when NATO member countries do it … (Turkey currently operating in Syria).

          • dukeofurl

            Doubled down , itsw different when Saudia Arabia does it too in Yemen

    • Sanctuary 1.2

      I wouldn’t characterise our foreign policy as courageous, unless you define courageous as:

      “…a mealy mouthed speaking out of both sides of mouth mumble aimed at keeping our allies, with whom we would most likely fight in any war, and our trading partners, who are mostly our potential enemies, happy alike before slinking off and hoping no one will notice us down here at the bottom of the world…”

      The thing is, this foreign policy – a private absolute guarantee to the USA we are a 100% ally whilst publicly also being China’s number FTA partner and also playing the role of all round nuclear free international nice guy has largely worked for the last thirty odd years, so why knock it?

      • Ed 1.2.1

        I don’t think our overall foreign policy is brave.
        I think this action is.

        A brave foreign and trade policy would have meant not signing the amended TPP deal.
        It would have meant pulling out of Five Eyes.

      • Keepcalmcarryon 1.2.2

        Yes, considering the hypocrisy of expulsion for some bad things but not others depending on what deal you did with who, I think we should start expelling Chinese spies.
        Would have the added benefit of a reduction in National Mps.

      • Delia 1.2.3

        After two world wars I would say that is the more rational decision, unless you want to decimate our population of men all over again. Wars are economic and we do not depend on trade with UK as we used to.

      • locus 1.2.4

        good quote Sanctuary… where is it from?

    • Wayne 1.3

      A Russia deal won’t happen, at least not for some years. FTA’s with the UK and the EU are way more important and are the current priority.

      • Ed 1.3.1

        This government is cowardly.
        It tinkers.
        It does not act.

        On an issue you certainly know a lot more than the rest of us here, what is your view on the recent resignation of Keating?

      • cleangreen 1.3.2

        Wayne Mapp; says; –
        “A Russia deal won’t happen, at least not for some years.”

        Is that when National may be trusted to be let back to run the country dry and broke again; – after we pay back all the $90 Billion that national borrowed and hid somewhere in their overseas “tax sheltered “accounts?

    • cleangreen 1.4

      100% Ed; -words better than I could say.

      Thanks for seeing “common sense” here.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 1.5

      An independent decision?

      Ardern and Peters made it clear that 5-eyes partners were consulted and involved throughout.

      So much for “independence”.

    • Chuck 1.6

      “A courageous and independent decision.”

      That’s not what Ardern told the country, Ed.

      There will be no trade deal with Russia for the foreseeable future. The Kremlin may interest Winston, however, NZ has bigger (and more reliable) fish to fry on the trade front.

    • D'Esterre 1.7

      Ed: “A courageous and independent decision.”

      I’d have preferred that she made no substantive comment until the evidence was in, and certainly that she’d made no decisions on any action until we saw said evidence. I wrote to her and Winston Peters, saying as much.

      I suspect that we have Peters to thank for how the government’s reacted thus far. He’s very experienced; moreover, such comments as he’s made suggest that he sees right through the sustained anti-Russian propaganda of the last few years. Thank heavens at least one of our pollies has the wit to do so.

      “Now we are in an excellent position to do and trade deal with Russia…”

      Yup. The sooner the better. We have, after all, been trading with that part of the world for pretty much all of my reasonably long life.

  2. Anne 2

    Thanks a million mickysavage.

    No time to comment on the substance but I’m grateful to Jacinda Ardern and her government for listening to the right people and making the right initial decision.

    Helen Clark also listened to the right people and kept us out of Iraq.

    There’s something about Labour women PMs. They’re very good for NZ.

  3. Nick 3

    Which NZ news media journalists accused Ardern of a misstep?

  4. Ad 4

    Prime Minister Ardern was adamant and strident in her response, but that amounted to words not deeds in the eyes of our traditional allies. She can’t have it both ways. It may look wise to a domestic audience, but weak from all governments looking at us (including the Russians).

    I’m suspending any stronger judgement on all of this until there is clearer evidence one way or the other.

    • Bill 4.1

      When running a murder investigation, is the idea to eliminate suspects (and then focus on the one who can’t be eliminated) or shoe-horn a preferred one into a position of presumed guilt?

      The UK government ran with prejudice and slipped on its own shit.

      Ardern may or may not have been adamant and strident (I didn’t pay attention), or it just might be the case that there’s bugger all in the way of a Russian presence in NZ.

      Is there an embassy or such like? Or is NZ “serviced” from Australia?

      edit – A whopping 8 people in Wellington.

      • Ad 4.1.1

        The “strident” description was in relation to the extensive quote from her in Mickey’s post.

        She made the right noises, but kept her options open by doing nothing, which is on balance about as principled as dancing on the end of a pin.

        • francesca

          So whats diplomacy about?
          What are the aims?
          Is it a means of signalling which club you align yourself with?No matter what
          As takes place in the UN to its detriment, where votes are definitely bloc oriented(Samantha Power used to glare around the room at vote time like a malevolent harpy)
          This definition has been used to criticise Ardern for not rustling up a few Russian spies, even a chauffeur’s wife would have done
          Or is it the means to keep conversations going, to not exclude the possibility of further relations and friendship , to keep things civil and open ended until some sort of definitive evidence is produced
          Dancing on a pin in these circumstances is neither a snub to the UK, or the RF’ and probably the only way to go

          • Tracey

            Imagine, waiting for actual evidence before making big statements… apparently it is weakness.

        • Tracey

          I thought principles aka values were irrelevant in the game of politics and only for idealogues and naive

        • cleangreen

          That’s politics for you eh?

          We just had nine years of this double speak.
          We are all familiar to this by now eh?

        • AB

          Exactly the sort of elaborate dancing that a small, principled country might have to do if it is tied into relationships with much larger and less principled partners?
          These really are our only choices – dancing on pinheads or sycophantic braying. National (Sir Keith Holyoake honourably excepted over Vietnam) have always gone for the latter.
          And compromise – Clark kept us out of Iraq but had to offer something on Afghanistan so long as it could be spun domestically as ‘reconstruction’.

        • reason

          AD …. your about as principled as a man walking into a room full of children with a hammer in your hand … which you bury in their little skulls … for that is the wickedness of what warmongers advocate.

          But you don’t have the guts …. it’s ok with you as long as you don’t have to do it … or see the results … and bombs are even messier than hammers.

          Wayne Mapp is another … his hand prints are on the hammer blow a cute little innocent girl took to the head .

          You’d hope her image would keep him awake at night …. but he probably sleeps like a baby and dreams of trade deals


      • mikes 4.1.2

        “When running a murder investigation, is the idea to eliminate suspects (and then focus on the one who can’t be eliminated) or shoe-horn a preferred one into a position of presumed guilt?”

        Neither. The idea is to gather enough clear and undeniable evidence which points you to a prime suspect. The focus should always be on the evidence before it is on any suspects.

        With crimes such as this though, it seems that it always helps to look closely at ‘who benefits?’

        • cleangreen

          To much ‘supisition’ in your offered piece Mikes.

          Courts need solid facts not who is most suited to be just a “prime suspect” but rather who is 100% guilty as charged under 100% factual evidence.

          • One Anonymous Bloke

            No, courts don’t use “100%” as the standard.

            That’s why they say “beyond a reasonable doubt”. If the justice system insisted on 100%, no-one would ever be convicted of anything.

            For diplomacy, the threshold is considerably lower, as we’ve seen.

            • Incognito

              For politics, the threshold is considerably lower again, as we’ve seen.

            • dukeofurl

              Beyond Reasonable doubt – it all ways needs more than one piece of evidence.

      • xanthe 4.1.3

        “When running a murder investigation, is the idea to eliminate suspects (and then focus on the one who can’t be eliminated) or shoe-horn a preferred one into a position of presumed guilt?”

        thats the way (the second option) we do it in NZ.

    • Gabby 4.2

      Strident? That’s pretty shrill talk addy.

      • Ad 4.2.1

        “Outrage at the brazen and callous use of chemical weapons in a UK town is fully justified,” Ms Ardern said in a statement on Friday evening.

        “This incident is a serious affront to accepted global rules and norms. The use of chemical weapons in any circumstances is totally repugnant, and New Zealand is deeply disturbed at any use of chemical substances banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention..

        Cal l that whatever you like, but that’s the New Zealand position.

        • cleangreen

          “Cal l that whatever you like, but that’s the New Zealand position.”

          No its not mine and I am a sixth generation KIwi!!!!!

    • SPC 4.3

      I doubt that going along with instructions would make us appear strong to the Russians, or anyone else. Just be the same as a government of a Warsaw Pact nation voting the same way as the Kremlin in the UN, vote after vote.

      We have no security alliance with any of them. And we have no free trade deal with the UK (we queue amongst other nations days at their airports and have limited work residency rights) or EU. Nor USA, only Oz (CER) who are tough on Kiwis in Oz and of NATO only Canada (newly so) of the united front.

      And let’s not forget where they stood when the French got the all clear to bomb a ship in one of our harbours.

      • dukeofurl 4.3.1

        Yes the rainbow warrior bombing was a chorus of condemnation SFA from the UK.

    • “I’m suspending any stronger judgement on all of this until there is clearer evidence one way or the other.”

      Quite right, Ad. Ah, if only ALL the other participants in the drama (except perhaps the Skripals) had suspended judgment until there was clear evidence!

    • Sanctuary 4.5

      “…. She can’t have it both ways…”

      But she is, and she has.

      • Ad 4.5.1

        Not from any mainstream media outside of New Zealand. that bothered to care what our position was.

        • Wayne

          The Economist commented on the New Zealand position in a wry sort of way. Major international publications have noted where we have stood on this, seeing it as sort of in and sort of out.

          • Ed

            Well it would take that position…..

            The publication belongs to the Economist Group. It is 50% owned by the English branch of the Rothschild family and by the Agnelli family through its holding company Exor.

            The Economist takes an editorial stance of classical and economic liberalism that supports free trade, globalisation, free immigration


          • AB

            “sort of in and sort of out”
            Which is the best place to be and we have a tradition of it – Holyoake’s token contribution in Vietnam, Clark staying out of Iraq but having to cough up something for Afghanistan.
            This is what small, principled players tied into relationships with less principled, jingoistic behemoths do.

        • cleangreen

          ” media outside of New Zealand. that bothered to care what our position was.”

          No-one outside nz carries a damn who we think jhere as we are such an insignificant country I have lived most of my life in EU, USA Canada, Africa, Australia and my mother country NZ, and know overseas they dont give a damn what goes on here. ,

  5. Stuart Munro 5

    Expelling embassy staff really applies more to the old cold war version of the Russian state – it probably isn’t applicable to the new model in the same way.

    The embassy is no longer necessarily the centre of any Russian intelligence activity here, there are numerous oligarchs like Alexander Abramov https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/home-property/84872148/Russian-billionaire-Alexander-Abramovs-Helena-Bay-resort-is-now-taking-bookings whose operations could readily support the kind of temporary faux commercial enterprise that serves as a cover, and it is unlikely that SIS or GCSB are monitoring them effectively – their resources are focused more on the likes of Kim Dotcom or the Greens.

    In the absence of evidence of wrongdoing throwing people out isn’t brilliant, though the OPCW conclusions on the Salisbury attack may amount to evidence of wrongdoing, and if that comes up any sanctions are best directed at the state, of which the embassy is an appendage.

    The claim that NZ had no active Russian spies was not particularly reassuring, but neither was it much of a misstep. Better phrasing “There is no-one we wish to be rid of at this time” might have saved us a storm of foolish Gnat blather.

    Probably not however, they’re pretty foolish, and love the sound of their own voices.

  6. Arderns name being in the same sentence as Corbyn…there was a time, and not that long ago, that the Labour Party would have sent you a cease and desist letter for such blasphemy….in fact I imagine Robertson squirms at the thought of anything Corbyn Esque gaining too much momentum* over here…

    It would be an understatement to say that I would be quite amazed to see Ardern take a stand on an issue and be willing to take the same heat as Corbyn…his stand had the press crowing about his imminent demise, the New Labour contingent of the Party where sharpening their weapons, yet over here I didn’t see one single headline that implied Ardern was siding with Russia, she danced on the head of that pin with utmost care.

    • mikes 6.1

      “..his stand had the press crowing about his imminent demise..”

      There’s nobody that the press in the UK actually really hates apart from Corbyn. The reason they hate him is that they are terrified of him.

      If you look back at where he has stood on various issues around foreign affairs over the years (such as Iraq, Libya, Bosnia, etc,etc), He has always been completely clear on his position and as far as I can tell, his position has always turned out to be the correct one.

  7. Andre 7

    Andrew Geddis’ analysis seems a bit closer to the mark: rather than avoiding a rush to judgement, it was simply that none of the Russian embassy staff here were the right pay grade to be kicked out. If we had then gone on to randomly pick someone to kick out, just because, then our response would have been significantly and inappropriately stronger than other countries.


    • One Anonymous Bloke 7.1

      This. Geddis’ remarks didn’t suit the Kremlin’s official stenographers, nor Whitehall’s.

  8. francesca 8

    Any legal whizz prepared to comment on this?


    Looks like a kangaroo court to me.

    • cleangreen 8.1

      “However, she (Julia) cannot do so. (talk on the phone) Salisbury Hospital officials, who have confirmed her capacity to listen and speak by telephone, will not say why.”

      Looks like a gaging of witnesses there by the Salisbury Hospital firstly as well as a kangaroo court to me.

  9. CHCOff 9

    Issues like this are generally beyond the limits of bread and circus democracy.

  10. RedLogix 10

    So last night I was drinking with a bunch of Russian divers. (These are the kind of madmen who use a very new technology which literally breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen to create a torch that cuts through a 400mm diameter steel shackle in about 2 minutes. I really would not have believed it if they hadn’t showed me the video they took earlier in the day. The diver is working 20m down, using a lance about 2m long and the brilliant ball of white is larger than his own body …. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    Like I said … madmen. And they did describe Putin as a pansy, lefty liberal … 🙂 Their view is that Russia is a European country and the entire debacle of the Cold War and subsequent nonsense has been contrived by the USA mainly to ensure a divided Europe (ie one without Russia) would never grow strong enough to challenge the American hegemony.

    And while this strategy has succeeded it is now destabilised by two things, China and Islam. The Americans cannot contain Europe, China and Islam all at the same time … something will give.

    Well we were drinking Stolichnaya straight … and no I didn’t get a lot of work done today.

  11. logie97 11

    It is well to remember that pride often precedes a fall.
    Why gloat about the government’s (probable) correct analysis and stance on this
    issue. Just chalk it up as a positive and be happy in the knowledge that we appear to have level headedness in the Beehive.
    The Right have a nasty habit through their propaganda machine, of twisting these stories.

    I would have thought it wiser to just let the story fade away… or at least enjoy the likes of Boris being further discredited by their own.

  12. Carolyn_Nth 12

    A recent development in this case, gives new meaning to both

    a dead cat bounce

    and a dead cat strategy

    It’s good to hear that the Skripals are recovering.

    Whatever the truth about the poisonings, I think the UK government are using the incident to ramp up popular opinion against Russia, and to divert from their Brexit woes.

    There’s also an element of “either you’re with us or you’re against us.”

    • Anne 12.1

      I think the UK government are using the incident to ramp up popular opinion against Russia, and to divert from their Brexit woes.

      Oh yes – especially the latter woes!

      I guess they’re working on the assumption that:

      if you can fool people some of the time then you can fool them all of the time.

      As for “either you’re with us or you’re against us.”

      That’s a meme which destroyed the lives of many thousands of innocent people throughout the Western world during the Cold War years. They’re trying to resurrect it again.

  13. savenz 13

    A good call by Jacinda and Labour.

  14. mikesh 14

    There is an interesting story in today’s Herald (apparently sourced from the Daily Mail)
    concerning a large sum of money belonging to Yulia’s late brother, which he had received as a divorce settlement, and deposited in a Russian bank. It seems that, a few days prior to the Salisbury incident, Yulia had received a power of attorney over the money from her father. The latter is presumably unable to return to Russia so it looks as though he has arranged for her to claim the money on his behalf as she is free to move between Britain and Russia. It is rather suspicious that a fews days later an attempt was made on the pair’s lives.

    Perhaps instead blindly blaming the Russian government for the attempted murders, the British investigaters should be “following the money”.

  15. Mark 15

    I am sad to read about what is happening to my beloved country with this mob running the shop.

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