Russian ambassador continues to refuse ‘unnecessary’ briefings

Russian Ambassador Georgii Zuev continued to refuse to appear before select committees or be interviewed by the media, saying it would be futile.

Russian Ambassador to New Zealand Georgii Zuev.
Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Government

An international law scholar says the ambassador should not be officially summoned and that New Zealand must exercise caution in its dealings with him, taking other steps before the possibility of deportation.

MPs debated whether to order Zuev to appear before parliament for questioning. It would be an extraordinary decision, especially since he enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Zuev was twice invited to appear. In a letter dated March 14, he said he was honored to receive an invitation to brief the Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Select Committee, but declined as it would be “obviously futile”.

“Parliament’s surprising vote last week in favor of unanimous support for the blatant anti-Russian legal ruling showed that MPs had long since made up their minds about the situation in Ukraine and hardly needed any further guidance.” , he wrote.

“I reiterate, my direct address in support of such an important committee hearing would have made perfect sense had it been arranged prior to the vote rather than as a follow-up now that the Russia Sanctions Bill measures are in the works. , and the blame-public campaign of Russians in New Zealand is on the rise.”

New Zealand has imposed independent sanctions on Russian oligarchs, officials and their families, as well as a 35% tariff on all Russian imports.

Zuev referred the chair of the select committee, Labor MP Jenny Salesa, to the embassy’s online resources for documents relating to Russia’s official position on the situation in Ukraine, and said the embassy “will ready to provide you with additional documents and clarifications at our disposal”.

In response, RNZ understands that the committee asked him again to appear, outlining the powers someone has to compel someone to appear, but he did not respond.

It is understood that the committee is actively considering whether parliament can summon the ambassador and to what extent the protections of the Vienna Convention – which guarantees diplomatic immunity – extend.

RNZ sent repeated requests to the ambassador for an interview, but his office only referred to the letter addressed to Salesa.

Al Gillespie, professor of international law at the University of Waikato, said the ambassador should not be summoned.

“He should be invited, but not summoned. Such moves are about to violate the spirit of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations,” he said.

The convention guarantees diplomatic agents freedom from arrest or detention, immunity from criminal or civil prosecution, except in very specific circumstances, and excludes them from the obligation to testify.

Gillespie said that diplomatic agents were, however, bound by the laws and regulations of the host state and had a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of the state, but the way to respond to that would be to speak behind closed doors or – as the heaviest sanction – to designate them persona non-grata.

This would force Russia to recall its ambassador or terminate his duties in the embassy.

Gillespie said New Zealand should handle the situation carefully for three main reasons.

“(a) What happens to the Russian ambassador will probably happen to the Kiwi ambassador in Moscow; (b) At some point this war will end and we will have to rebuild the relationship, (c) there are other means of expressing displeasure – such as expelling some junior members of the mission.”

Prior to the February invasion, Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta had already called Zuev to hear New Zealand’s objections to Russia’s aggression.

National is calling for the ambassador’s expulsion soon after the launch of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying the time for diplomacy is over.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern refused, saying only one other country had done so, that economic sanctions were more effective and that the government wanted to keep consular and diplomatic channels open.

The Green Party has backed that position so far, with foreign affairs spokesman Golriz Ghahraman saying Zuev should be expelled if he still refuses to appear before the committee.

“A diplomat’s job is to continue the dialogue, so that’s what we honor until he… honors the same,” Ghahraman said.

Ardern has not ruled out removing the ambassador in the future.

Last week, after MPs and senior defense and security personnel were blacklisted from traveling to Russia, Gillespie suggested New Zealand could expect further sanctions of Russia, including against personalities.

He said the recent emergence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the conflict had changed its nature.

Although at this stage the removal of the ambassador is not in New Zealand’s best interests, the changed nature of the conflict may now justify sending arms or the possibility of removing certain level officials. Lower Embassy.

Read the ambassador’s letter in full:

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