Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has formally met with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres amid the escalating war in Ukraine.
Ardern is in New York for the UN General Assembly, where leaders have gathered to deal with the world’s crises.
She said the meeting with Guterres covered issues such as the war in Ukraine, the role of the Indo-Pacific in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, as well as the challenges facing the Pacific, including climate change.
Ardern said the expulsion of the Russian ambassador was “one of New Zealand’s least meaningful” actions.
“Of all the options for our strong response to Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, we have always had a range of options on the table, and expelling the Russian ambassador has always been one of those options. We love most of our like-minded partners have not used that option because it is one of the least useful in this situation.
“Sanctions are the strongest message. As politicians, we are all prohibited from traveling to Russia for our sanctions, not for diplomatic expulsions.”
Ardern said her conversation with Guterres discussed how to make clear to the international community that she remained united amid the recent escalation of military rhetoric by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Our conversation was in those more general terms, how can we continue to ensure that we have that international community in all its regions, not just in Europe, but of course in Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, the Caribbean so that it It is very clear that the international community is united in this clear violation of international rules and order.”
A UN statement released after the meeting said Guterres thanked New Zealand for its “steadfast support for multilateralism”.
“The Secretary General and the Prime Minister exchanged views on global security, including the impact of the war in Ukraine and the challenges facing the Pacific,” the statement said.
Ardern called for UN reform because the Security Council had failed to achieve its goal.
“The UN is usually the body through which we operate with our sanctions, but even instead you have still seen the international community act.
“We need UN reform. It’s just not good enough that we had to act bilaterally, we had to act on our own to make sure we see those consequences for Russia because of the veto and the failure of the Security Council.”
Expelling Russia from the UN was not the right option because it would mean that Russia would not have to be condemned by the West, Ardern said.
Ardern met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal yesterday and confirmed New Zealand’s support.
Ardern echoed Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta’s view that the expulsion of the Russian ambassador “has always been on the table, has always been actively considered”.
“I really reaffirm the view that according to them the most important thing we could do is first of all sanctions and also support them as we have done in the ongoing struggle in Ukraine.”
Ardern said Ukraine had never asked New Zealand to expel its Russian ambassador.
She also attended President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “powerful” speech to the General Assembly, joining a standing ovation at the end of the meeting.
Ardern has found time for other events on the sidelines: at night she sat for the first time with Chilean President Gabriel Boric.
She also briefly attended a climate function for leaders in the Pacific, chaired by Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, and was invited to give an impromptu speech.
“When it comes to the main security issue facing our region, it is by far the issue of climate change,” Ardern said.
Tonight, the New Zealand delegation, along with Bainimarama, would host a meeting of leaders from the Pacific islands, Ardern said.
Some countries worry that the focus on the war in Russia is crowding out other existential crises, such as the climate crisis.
Ardern attended a reception yesterday hosted by US President Joe Biden and open to all leaders.
She said she also had a brief chat with Biden while she was in London for the Queen’s funeral.
She previously told media that Putin’s actions were an “extraordinary escalation” of the conflict and called for a “call from the world”.
“What you see in Ukraine is illegal,” Ardern said. “It’s immoral.”
“It causes a loss of civilian casualties, and that loss could expand if – as Putin claimed – he expands the types of weapons used in this war,” she said.
Guterres opened Leaders’ Week warning of a coming “winter of global discontent”.
“We can’t go on like this,” he said. “We have an obligation to act – and yet we are stuck in a colossal global dysfunction.”