Sixty-Five Years of Diplomatic Relations between New Zealand and Russia

By Chris Elder

On 9 May each year, a small group of elderly men gather before a memorial plaque on the waterfront of Wellington, New Zealand’s capital. They are joined there by staff of Russia’s Embassy in New Zealand. Each year the numbers are less, yet each year the occasion is more significant. For these men are the survivors of the New Zealanders who took part in the Arctic convoys between 1941 and 1945. Through their service, they helped to keep open the links between Russia and its wartime allies.

That commemoration is a reminder of the events that led to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between Russia and New Zealand, sixty-five years ago. It was the reality of a wartime alliance that led the two countries to formalise their relationship. For New Zealand, a small country that had previously delegated responsibility for most aspects of its foreign policy to the United Kingdom, it demonstrated a new independence and sense of confidence in the conduct of its international relations.

When, on 13 April 1944, an exchange of notes established diplomatic relations between the two countries, New Zealand’s official announcement noted that “it is highly desirable that New Zealand should have direct representation with Russia, which is not only one of the four great powers but is also a country with important interests in the Pacific region”. Both aspects of the rationale stated in that announcement have been constantly apparent in the conduct of the relations between New Zealand and Russia in the sixty five years that have passed since their establishment.

For New Zealand it has been, and remains, very important to be in touch with the thinking of one of the world’s major powers. Even when our policies have differed widely, as on occasion they have, New Zealand has recognised a need to know the position of the Soviet Union, and now Russia, and to be fully informed about the considerations that have led to that position being adopted. At the same time, we have placed value on the opportunity to communicate our views directly to one of the world’s great powers, and to have the sense that they are taken into account.

Secondly, it is relevant to the relationship that Russia is not only a great power, but a Pacific power. New Zealand’s closest neighbours are the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, and in that respect Russia is a neighbour – a distant neighbour, but a neighbour nevertheless. Moscow may be ten time zones away from Wellington, but Vladivostok is only two. As the regional structures of the Asia Pacific region have developed, our two countries have found themselves participating in many of the same forums. We have shared interests in promoting the stability of the region, and its prosperity.

What began as a relationship of political necessity, forged in a time of war, has acquired many other aspects over the passage of sixty-five years. Among the most important has been the trading relationship. Russia’s appetite for New Zealand’s agricultural products such as dairy products, meat, and wool, has at times elevated it to New Zealand’s fifth largest export market. Bilateral trade now is less significant than once it was, but with the growth in Russians’ spending power conferred by the massive economic developments of recent years, New Zealand exporters are once again turning their eyes to the giant to their north. New Zealand exports to Russia in the 2008-2009 export year amounted to NZ$229 million, a 46 percent leap upon the figures for the year before.

Economic ties are no longer simply about trade in goods. Two-way investment is acquiring a new significance. New Zealand’s agricultural expertise has been a key factor in adding value to farmland investment, particularly in Russia’s Far East. And conversely, a major new Russian investment in New Zealand will see the latest in food technology from Russia combined with New Zealand’s excellent milk to produce high-quality food products for export to Southeast Asia.

New Zealand is a country of immigrants. In the years during which our bilateral relationship has developed we have welcomed many new settlers from Russia. More than 15,000 Russian people are now settled in New Zealand, making a contribution to our society, and making a contribution also to the links between their new home and their old.

Our two countries are situated very nearly at opposite ends of the earth. Sixty-five years ago, it was beyond imagination that there could be rapid and convenient travel between the two. Now that is a reality, with one-stop air links connecting Russia and New Zealand. Tourism has contributed to people-to-people contacts, and, even more so, education. New Zealand academic institutes are coming to realise what Russia’s long tradition of devotion to academic excellence has to offer. At the same time, New Zealand’s own regard for quality in education makes it an attractive destination for young people from Russia who wish to study English, or to study other disciplines in an English language environment.

Much has changed over the sixty five years since our two countries first set in place a diplomatic relationship. New Zealand has become a confident independent member of the international community. Russia has redefined itself, without losing its central place in world affairs. Through that time our bilateral links have grown on many fronts. Undeniably, however, there is room for the relationship to grow yet more. The sixty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations is an opportunity to look back with satisfaction at what has been achieved, and at the same time to rise to the challenge of building further in the years to come.

Article by former Ambassador Stuart Prior on the 60th Anniversary of New Zealand/Russia Diplomatic Relations (2004): New Zealand Russia Relations – Sixty Years on, an Embassy Perspective

From the New Zealand perspective, for thirty years after the Second War, the USSR was viewed through the prism of the Cold War as an unknowable and distant society. For those few New Zealanders able to visit the Soviet Union, it was a strange and exotic destination. The emergence of the Soviet Union as a market for New Zealand agricultural commodities of major importance in the 1970s and 1980s stimulated broader contacts and prompted the development of a political dialogue to support the overall economic relationship, although this dialogue was always constrained by Cold War perceptions and concerns on New Zealand’s part about Soviet intentions both at the global and regional levels. For New Zealanders, indeed, much of the mystery of the USSR remained till the end of the Soviet Union itself, in 1991.

This review, which draws on the recollections and comments of previous New Zealand Ambassadors in Moscow, seeks to present an Embassy perspective on a relationship that has over the past sixty years been focused principally on the trading and commercial relationship.

New Zealand’s diplomatic relations with Russia may broadly be divided into four periods: first, the 1940s, when the Second World War brought our nations together as allies and New Zealand established a Legation in Moscow; secondly, the period from 1950 to 1973, when New Zealand was not represented in Moscow, although the USSR continued to maintain a diplomatic presence in Wellington; thirdly, the 1970s and 1980s when, with a New Zealand Embassy in Moscow, trade became the major element of the relationship; and, finally from the 1990s, when the new Russia emerged from the former Soviet Union, bringing in a period of dramatic and far-reaching change.

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, New Zealand had no diplomatic representation abroad, except for its High Commissioner in London. At that time, almost all New Zealand’s trade was with the United Kingdom, and the country was closely aligned with its former colonial parent. Five years after the war began, and largely because of the war, New Zealand had established diplomatic representations in the three main allied capitals, London, Washington and Moscow, as well as in Canberra and Ottawa.

The New Zealand Legation in Moscow was established in 1944, only a year after the creation of the New Zealand Foreign Service, in the form of the New Zealand Department of External Affairs. The Head of the Legation was Mr Charles Boswell. The building occupied by the Legation was a smallish mansion in the Art Nouveau (“Moscow Moderne”) style built at the turn of the nineteenth century to the design of the well-known architect, Lev Kekushev. It was located on Ulitsa Metrostroievskaya, now Ulitsa Ostozhenka.

From the very beginning, the Moscow Legation was in a difficult position. At the time it was the only New Zealand post in a non-English speaking country. It was in a country at war, indeed a country that was partly occupied by the enemy, Nazi Germany. It also found itself isolated from all sources of information, except official sources.

For New Zealanders, Moscow in the 1940s was undoubtedly an exotic location. It also possessed a very climate that was strange and difficult for New Zealanders. The First Secretary at the Legation, R T G Patrick, wrote to the Head of the External Affairs Department that the Second Secretary who was coming to Moscow, Paddy Costello, should bring the following clothing:

“Full dress evening suit, dinner suit, black coat (not morning) and vest and striped trousers, lounge suits and sport suit. Ordinary galoshes also boot galoshes covering ankles of rubber, the latter to have tops fabric or leather lined which we have ordered in Washington for immediate despatch to New Zealand. Suggest Costello obtain his while here or in the United Kingdom, also dress footwear. We are having long lambskin coats made with outer surface of gabardine. A good warm cloth overcoat is also recommended by Australian Legation which advises in addition, fur-lined coat. We have not examined cost of latter but have been informed by local resident previously living in Russia these are de rigueur for official classes, sheepskin coats being associated more with peasantry. Fur-lined boots suggested for severe weather and we are investigating possibility of flying boots being made available. Fur hats and fur-lined gloves are recommended. Top hats are not being taken.”

This last sentence was chosen by a retired Deputy Head of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malcolm Templeton, to be the title of the book he wrote about the New Zealand Legation in Moscow and the people who worked in it. (Top Hats are Not Being Taken: a short history of the NZ Legation in Moscow 1944-1950, New Zealand Institute of International Affairs and Ministry of External Relations and Trade, 1989). The title reflects, at least for a New Zealand reader, the exotic nature of the location and the work of the diplomat.

From the first the Moscow Legation was a cause of political controversy in New Zealand. In the aftermath of the Second War, as the “iron curtain” descended over Europe and the Cold War began in earnest, disillusionment in New Zealand about prospects for cooperation with the Soviet Union set in. At that time New Zealand did not trade with the USSR. Attempts by the Moscow Legation to convince the New Zealand Government to diversify markets away from the United Kingdom and to sell agricultural commodities to the Soviet Union were met with little enthusiasm. When the term of the Head of the Legation, Charles Boswell, ended in 1949, the Labour Government of the day did not attempt to replace him. The National Government that replaced Labour at the end of 1949 decided to close the Legation, for reasons of cost. This took place in 1950. (When the New Zealand Government gave up the Legation building on Metrostroievskaya the property continued its diplomatic associations, being occupied by other diplomatic representatives.)

Despite its short life, the New Zealand Legation in Moscow contributed significantly to the development of the New Zealand Foreign Service. During its period in operation the Legation showed that New Zealand diplomats could operate in a strange and difficult environment – something that came later to be a matter of course for New Zealand diplomats as New Zealand extended its worldwide network of diplomatic missions. The work done at the Legation also began for New Zealand a process of discovery of Russia that has continued to this day.

For almost a quarter of a century there was no New Zealand diplomatic presence in Moscow. During this period there were several international crises involving the USSR – particularly the invasions of Hungary in 1956, and of Czechoslovakia in 1968 – that reaffirmed, in New Zealand eyes, that Moscow was the “enemy” in the Cold War. From time to time the question of upgrading diplomatic relations was raised in New Zealand but events of the Cold War and the emergence of other foreign policy priorities for New Zealand (such as the need to expand diplomatic representation in Asia) meant that political circumstances were not right.

The commercial relationship began to develop in the 1950s as the USSR became a worthwhile trading partner of New Zealand, buying significant quantities of New Zealand meat, wool and dairy products from time to time. In 1955 and 1956 the first discussions took place between the two sides on the conclusion of a possible Trade Agreement. Work on this Agreement was, however, put to one side by New Zealand in response to the Soviet invasion of Hungary.

Through the 1950s a degree of political contact was maintained. The most notable event in this period was the visit to the USSR in 1960 of the New Zealand Labour Prime Minister, Walter Nash, during which he met the Soviet leader, N.S. Krushchev, at Gagra. This visit was a signal by Mr Nash of his wish that New Zealand be seen to be developing a more independent foreign policy. It was also an important opportunity for the Prime Minister to pursue a principal concern of his, nuclear disarmament, and, in particular, to advance the New Zealand case that the 1958 de facto moratorium on nuclear testing should be formalised into a permanent ban.

With the return to power of a National Government in 1960, led by Keith Holyoake, New Zealand policy towards the USSR became somewhat cooler, as the new Government focused its attention differently on the major international foreign policy issues of the day. Yet cautious progress was still made on the New Zealand side. Work was resumed on the Bilateral Trade Agreement, and it was eventually signed in August 1963. Its main feature was that each side accorded the other Most Favourable Nation (MFN) status. In the 1960s, helped by this Agreement, trade became more regular.

In November 1972 a Labour Government was returned to power in New Zealand under Prime Minister Norman Kirk. The new Prime Minister signalled new directions in New Zealand’s foreign policy. In a statement on “New Zealand in the World of the 1970s”, issued on 22 December 1972, the Prime Minister said that his Government would soon be examining the question of reopening the New Zealand Mission in Moscow. Explaining his decision, Mr Kirk said that there were now four Great Powers involved in the affairs of Asia and the Pacific – the United States, Japan, China and the Soviet Union. Each was playing an active and independent role and each expected its friends to look after themselves more than in the past. In this situation, Mr Kirk said, it was essential for a small country such as New Zealand to be in a position to deal directly with all four Powers: “We must keep ourselves informed of what they are thinking and doing. Our national interests also require that we have the means of making our views known, and getting them heard, by the Great Powers.”

In due course the decision was taken to open Embassies in Beijing and in Moscow. The case for re-opening in Moscow was based on four main reasons:

(a) The Soviet Union was now a world power and its views had to be taken into account on any major international question. One example was the question of nuclear testing: a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing could not be achieved without the agreement of the Soviet Union.

(b) The Soviet Union was now taking an active part in Asian affairs, and its actions had a considerable bearing on what happened in an area that was important to New Zealand. It was clear in retrospect that the Russians played a significant part in bringing about the ceasefire agreement in Vietnam.

(c) The Soviet Union was beginning to take an interest in the South Pacific area as well. For some time it had been carrying out extensive oceanographic research there: more recently its fishing fleets had expanded their operations in the area. Several Soviet fishing vessels were now working off the New Zealand coasts and their number seemed likely to grow.

(d) The Soviet Union was becoming a major trading nation and its market offered scope for the expansion of New Zealand’s exports.

It is worth looking in more detail at the rationale advanced in 1972/73 for the restoration of the New Zealand diplomatic presence in Moscow as it remains valid for the work of the Embassy thirty years on.

The first responsibility of the new Moscow Embassy was to keep the New Zealand Government informed of Soviet views and actions on questions that affected New Zealand. Information about what happened in the Soviet Union, and about its foreign policy in general, was available from other sources. What could not be obtained from such sources was a constant monitoring of developments that bore, directly or indirectly, on New Zealand’s interests. What was required of the Embassy was not just reporting but reporting from a New Zealand point of view.

The second main responsibility of the Embassy was representation to the Soviet authorities of New Zealand views in a way that ensured that they were heard. The Embassy was expected to make a sustained effort over a long period to develop relations with the Soviet Union in various fields and to use the contacts established in one field to further New Zealand’s interests in another.

It was also noted that the establishment of the Embassy would be no substitute for visits to the Soviet Union by New Zealand Ministers and officials. On the contrary, it was expected to stimulate such contacts. It was acknowledged, however, that such visits were not a substitute for the establishment of the Embassy. The value of high-level visits, especially to a capital such as Moscow, would depend largely on the way the ground was prepared and the way in which visits were followed up afterwards. For this, it was argued, a permanent representation in Moscow was essential.

In 1973 New Zealand and Russia agreed that the Soviet Legation in Wellington should become a full Embassy, and that New Zealand would re-open a mission in Moscow. Events then moved relatively swiftly. A key early task was the selection of premises for the New Zealand Embassy. In April 1973 the senior New Zealand official who visited Moscow to examine options for a new Residence, Chancery and staff accommodation, reported to Wellington on the building that had been selected to be the future New Zealand Embassy and Residence combined:

“Building offered by UPDK as combined chancery and residence is situated in centre of Moscow at the corner of Vorovskovo and Skaryatinsky streets. The former residence of the Swedish Ambassador it was built in 1904. It is of spacious design with high ceilings and immensely thick stone walls; it is in good condition at least compared with other possibilities offered… The building is free standing with small lawn and good parking. With alterations it will provide appropriate accommodation for the Ambassador and the chancery… It appears to have modern heating system and new electrical wiring. The heated garage (essential in winter) has space for at least five cars… Disadvantages include the somewhat vulgar taste of the exterior of the building although it is less vulgar and ornate than the Australian Embassy and many others. It does require some alterations to convert but no major reconstruction is involved…”

The building chosen by UPDK, located at 44 Ulitsa Povarskaya (renamed from Vorovskovo) had served as the Swedish Mission, then Swedish Residence and Embassy from 1924 until 1972. Designed by Lev Kekushev, the building, known as the Mindovksy Mansion after its first owner, the merchant I. A. Mindovksy, a rich textile manufacturer from the Upper Volga, is today regarded as one of the most important examples of the Moscow Moderne style.

Even before the first New Zealand Ambassador, Mr Brian Lendrum, had arrived, the Minister of Overseas Trade, Joe Walding, came to Moscow to make a ground-breaking visit to explore the possibilities for expanding the bilateral trade and economic relationship. Mr Walding’s visit came on the heels of the visit to New Zealand by the Soviet Trade Minister N.S. Patolichev. This visit added to the 1963 Trade Agreement a Protocol establishing a Joint New Zealand/Russia Trade Commission that was expected to meet every two years.

Through the 1970s and 1980s the trade relationship grew strongly, pushed by developments in international trade and in New Zealand’s export economy. For New Zealand, the 1970s were a turbulent time. The successive oil shocks significantly changed the New Zealand balance of trade at the same time as the entry of the United Kingdom into the European Community significantly affected New Zealand’s ability to sell its agricultural commodities to its former principal market. At the same time, New Zealand saw the emergence of Russia as a global oil power, with new income to spend on the purchase of consumer goods, including foodstuffs. The value-for-money of New Zealand agricultural produce was recognised by consistent Soviet purchases in the 1970s and 1980s. The USSR also helped New Zealand indirectly through its purchase of very large quantities of surplus foodstuffs from the European Community and by buying major quantities of grain from the United States, Canada and Australia, which helped to stabilise world commodity markets of key interest to New Zealand.

By chance, too, Soviet fishing vessels discovered and began to exploit in the 1970s rich deepwater fishing grounds in what was to become New Zealand’s 200 Mile Exclusive Economic Zone in accordance with the provisions of the Law of the Sea. These fishing activities in time became a major factor in the creation of the New Zealand deepwater fishing industry. In the shorter term, the interest of the Soviet Union in gaining access to New Zealand’s fish resources under the provisions of the Law of the Sea, became a factor in economic negotiations between the two countries. This was recognised by the conclusion of a New Zealand-USSR Fisheries Agreement in 1978, signed in Wellington by the Soviet Minister of Fisheries, A.A. Ishkov.

The growing importance of the Soviet relationship was a factor in the decision by Wellington to substantially upgrade the Moscow Embassy in a major renovation in 1978 and 1979. This is period is graphically described in Ambassador Jim Weir’s memoirs of the period. (A New Zealand Ambassador’s Letters from Moscow, Hodder and Stoughton, 1988.)

International political events continued to affect the New Zealand/Soviet relationship. These were often factors in an internal political debate within New Zealand over the country’s foreign policy directions in the changing global situation. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979 led to series of decisions by the National Government of the day, led by Prime Minister Mr Robert Muldoon, to restrain the bilateral political and economic relationship. In this period of heightened concern on New Zealand’s part about Soviet intentions globally and with respect to the Pacific region, Wellington introduced a range of practical restrictions to the bilateral relationship. Additionally, the Government declared the Soviet Ambassador to New Zealand, V.N. Sofinsky, persona non grata on the grounds of political activities incompatible with his diplomatic status, and asked him to leave the country. This was followed by the Soviet request that the New Zealand Ambassador, Mr Jim Weir, leave Moscow in January 1980 and the Soviet withdrawal of agrement from Mr Weir’s successor.

Both the Soviet Embassy in Wellington and the New Zealand Embassy in Moscow remained under Charges d’Affaires until both sides agreed to the resumption of full diplomatic relations. A New Zealand Ambassador, Miss Alison Stokes, returned to Moscow in 1984.

In 1984 the new Labour Government led by Mr David Lange introduced new foreign policy priorities and engaged on a period of major social and economic reorganisation in New Zealand that subsequently became regarded as a New Zealand “revolution”. At the same time, New Zealand began to take a much closer interest in the Soviet Union as the accession to power of M.S. Gorbachev ushered in the period of “perestroika” and – as seen from New Zealand – “revolutionary” changes in the Soviet Union.

Even while political relations had been cool, the economic relationship continued to develop. The most notable feature during the 1980s was the diversification New Zealand companies were able to bring to the trading relationship. With the restoration of the full diplomatic relationship, cooperation expanded. In 1986 the establishment of the New Zealand-Soviet Business Council brought together government, trade and other organisations and individuals with an interest in seeing commercial contacts flourish between New Zealand and Russia.

In 1987 the SOVENZ Company was established with a representation in Moscow, the only New Zealand-owned trading office in the Soviet Union. The Company’s goal was to develop and consolidate trade between New Zealand and the Soviet Union. At the time it was among the very few Western companies involved in joint venture enterprises with the USSR. In addition to handling the sales of dairy products by the New Zealand Dairy Board to the USSR, the SOVENZ Moscow office also acted as the representation of the New Zealand Trade Development Board, the New Zealand Government’s trade promotion and development agency. The company frequently organised visits to New Zealand by Soviet delegations, particularly from those regions where SOVENZ was most involved in joint regional economic development projects.

Within the USSR, SOVENZ engaged in a wide range of trading activities from selling New Zealand butter to importing Stolichnaya vodka to New Zealand, to installing fishmeal processing plants on Soviet trawlers. Its diverse activities shared a common objective of furthering sales of New Zealand dairy products in the USSR through developing a positive trade relationship with the USSR that was of benefit to both countries. A number of New Zealand companies became involved under the SOVENZ aegis in joint ventures in freight, in peat moss and in deer velvet production. In the late 1980s, thanks to the work of SOVENZ, New Zealanders built small meat and dairy processing plants and cool stores in areas such as the Altai, the southern Urals and the Russian Far East.

There were positive developments, too, in the fishing sector. New Zealand companies that had cooperated with Soviet Far East fishing bases operating under licence in New Zealand’s 200-mile EEZ, moved on to make independent arrangements for using Soviet fishing vessels under charter or joint venture agreements. This further assisted the development of the New Zealand deep-water fishing industry, including, in time, the participation of New Zealand Maori in the industry (through links with the business interests of the South Island Ngai Tahu people).

Reflecting the growing significance of the USSR as a market for New Zealand produce, the pace of political contacts quickened. The Minister of Overseas Trade, Mr Mike Moore, led a business delegation to Russia in 1986. The Minister of Recreation and Sport, Mr Peter Tapsell, visited in 1988, as did a New Zealand Parliamentary delegation, led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Kerry Burke. The Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Geoffrey Palmer, also visited in 1988. Mr Palmer’s visit was particularly significant because it recognised the advantageous trading relationship and included stopovers in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, the latter still a closed city at that time.

The cultural side of the relationship began to grow in the 1980s. Several Soviet and Russian academics visited New Zealand. Their visits helped scholars and students in New Zealand and, through them, the general public, to increase their understanding of Russia.

Although the changes of the “perestroika” era began to affect commercial relationships in the late 1980s (for example through shortages of hard currency and problems with payment for New Zealand goods supplied) New Zealand continued to recognise the long-term potential for the New Zealand/Soviet trade relationship. In 1991 the New Zealand Trade Development Board and the Ministry of External Relations and Trade commissioned a trade survey under the Government’s International Economic and Trade Initiative. The survey was undertaken by Stuart Prior (current Ambassador to Russia). The first part of this survey was completed in May and June 1991 and its findings and recommendations were published on 31 July 1991.

The recommendations of this report were almost immediately overtaken by events. The failed coup in Moscow in August 1991 followed by the collapse of the USSR in December 1991 ushered in a period of changes on a global scale. The economic as well as the political relationships between Russia, the Soviet Union’s successor state (recognised as such by New Zealand in January 1992), and New Zealand were inevitably affected.

Reflecting the uncertainties of change in the former USSR, New Zealand trade with Russia fell dramatically in 1992. Within a year, however, the level of trade had risen significantly. From the New Zealand perspective, the large debt owed by the USSR to New Zealand for purchases of dairy products and wool became the major problem in the relationship and a great deal of effort was expended, both by the Embassy in Moscow and by officials in Wellington, in order to resolve this issue.

The debt problem did not, however, stand in the way of the development of trade in the new business environment based on normal, free-market commercial relations. Several representative offices were established by New Zealand companies in response to the new commercial opportunities that they had identified. The New Zealand Dairy Board established an office in Moscow, and maintained representation also in St Petersburg and Vladivostok. The New Trade company (a successor to SOVENZ), established offices in Moscow, Khabarovsk and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Other companies with long traditions of working with the Soviet Union also began to re-examine prospects for engagement in the markets of the new Russia.

In March 1993 the New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr Jim Bolger, visited Moscow. The visit, the first by a New Zealand Prime Minister since 1960, was recognised as a most important event in the development of the bilateral relationship. Mr Bolger held productive discussions with President B.N. Yel’tsin and Prime Minister V. S. Chernomyrdin. The Prime Minister recognised the important role that the new Russia had to play in the Asia/Pacific region and confirmed the potential for the bilateral relationship to develop further in the political and economic areas.

The visit confirmed the new opportunities that had arisen for New Zealand and Russia to develop their relationship. At the same time, people-to-people contacts, made possible by the opening of Russia’s borders to travel and emigration, and of Russia’s regions to visitation by foreigners, broadened the range of connections. Russians began to visit New Zealand as tourists. Others migrated to New Zealand, where they form today significant communities with many links with Russia that are increasingly being used to stimulate economic and social relations between our countries.

The economic relationship continued to develop through the second half of the 1990s until the Russian economic crisis of 1997/1998 leading to the default of 1998, provided a major shock. In particular, the default led to major losses by the New Zealand Dairy Board that was not paid for $100 million worth of products delivered to Russia. Five years on, the New Zealand view of the economic relationship is still coloured by this event although new trade and economic opportunities based on a partnership model and mutual advantage are now attracting the attention of New Zealand businesses.

Politically, the relationship between New Zealand and Russia has continued to develop. In 2001 the New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Phil Goff, visited Moscow and the breadth of the Minister’s discussions showed the wide range of common interests held by the two sides. While the main focus of the relationship is economic, Russia’s positions on international security and disarmament issues, including the war against terrorism, environmental issues, and a range of international problems and issues, including Antarctica, are of keen interest to New Zealand. New Zealand supports Russia’s participation in APEC, and in Asia/Pacific regional processes. New Zealand is also keenly interested in the involvement of Russia in the major economic processes of globalisation. In this connection, New Zealand strongly supports the earliest possible entry of Russia into the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Constructive and friendly bilateral political discussions in Wellington at Senior Official level in late 2002 reinforced the existence of areas of common interest and concern that form part of an on-going dialogue, both bilaterally and in the margins of international meetings, including those of the United Nations. As countries with significant polar interests, New Zealand and Russia cooperate in the Antarctic Treaty and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), where the problem of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing is one of the current matters of keen interest to both sides.

On the economic side two developments in 2003 are particularly noteworthy: the coming into force of a Double Tax Agreement and the bilateral Agreement on Goods signed by New Zealand and Russia in November 2003 in the context of Russia’s request to accede to the WTO. Both Agreements will strengthen the foundation for the development of the bilateral economic relationship. The New Zealand Minister for Trade Negotiations, Mr Jim Sutton, commented in Moscow after he had signed the Goods Agreement with I. S. Materov, First Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, that he hoped that the Agreement, the first such WTO agreement signed by Russia with a Western partner (and agricultural exporting nation), would encourage closer commercial and technical links in the agricultural field in particular. Mr Sutton also hoped that the deal would enable New Zealand to play a part in the growth of the Russian economy in future years.

This brief history reminds how much has changed in the world in the past sixty years, as well as how much has changed in Russia and in New Zealand in this period. Today both countries can look forward with confidence to the future and to the continuing expansion of their bilateral relationship. The New Zealand Embassy in Moscow, based in the wonderful Mindovksy Mansion, will continue to play its full part in representing New Zealand in the new Russia.



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