Kiwis to Sochi, FTA on hold amid Ukraine crisis
New Zealand's Paralympians should still compete at Sochi, in Russia, despite the Ukraine crisis, Prime Minister John Key says.
However, a suspension of free-trade talks with Russia could drag out for some time, he said.
Tension between Russia and Ukraine escalated overnight, with reports from inside Ukraine that Russia had delivered its neighbour an ultimatum.
Russia's Black Sea fleet had given Ukrainian forces in Crimea until 3am GMT (4pm NZ time) today to surrender or face a "military storm", according to a Ukrainian Defence Ministry source.
A Ukrainian Navy spokesman said he had no knowledge of the message.
New Zealand has joined the rest of the world in condemning Russia's actions, and yesterday the Government called in Russian Ambassador Valery Tereshchenko to formally tell him New Zealand's views.
Key said "a very strong message" was delivered.
"We don't agree with the actions the Russians are taking, we think they're breaching the sovereignty of Ukraine," the prime minister said.
"We don't agree with the position that President Putin has essentially extended himself, by going to the Russian Parliament and allowing himself to use any means, including force, to protect Russian interests.
"We don't think it's in the best interests of Russia, Ukraine or indeed Europe for there to be a build up of force and potentially military action in Crimea and in Ukraine."
Trade Minister Tim Groser, who had been finalising a trade agreement with Russia for past few days, was pulled out of Moscow last night on Key's orders.
Key said the suspension of free-trade talks between New Zealand and Russia could go on for some time, if tensions in Ukraine escalated.
"The tragedy of that is we've been working on this . . . for three years and in fact, Tim Groser had been in Moscow, negotiating the FTA and we'd been inching closer to a deal," he said.
"But in the end I don't think this would be the right time for us to be signing a free-trade agreement."
Like-minded countries that New Zealand would typically align itself with were taking strong action, he said. That included countries such as Britain pulling out of G8 talks in Sochi.
The Guardian newspaper in Britain has reported Russia's status as a G8 country was also at risk, as the big economic powers threaten expulsion and economic sanctions. But Key said New Zealand's paralympians should still compete at Sochi if they wanted to. "It's a very good point - I haven't actually taken a long time to consider that," he said.
"I guess the answer to that is 'yes', there's maybe a degree of inconsistency there but I'm not aware of any other countries pulling their athletes out.
"And as a general rule, New Zealand has participated in Olympic Games and sporting contests despite the things that we see around us. As a general rule, that's been our position, I imagine that's what will be maintained."
New Zealand has, in the past, largely separated sports from politics.
Key said New Zealand did pull out of the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of Russia's invasion of Afghanistan, but that "was much further down the track I think, than this particular situation".
- Fairfax Media
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