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Interview with Stuart Prior, former New Zealand Ambassador to Moscow (2003-2006) Print E-mail

April 13, 2014 - 70th Anniversary of Russia-New Zealand Diplomatic Relations

Interview with Stuart Prior, former New Zealand Ambassador to Moscow (2003-2006), Honorary Consul for the Republic of Belarus in New Zealand, Chairman of Prior Group
Olga Suvorova conducted the interview at the request of the Editorial Board (Nasha Gavan #63)

1Q Mr Prior, how did you become interested in Russia?

I fell in love with the Russian alphabet at High School. A lady offered to teach basics of Russian in after-school classes. I went along out of interest. The alphabet was fascinating. Russian language was being taught at the University of Otago. I enrolled for Year 1 of Russian – and was amazed by the richness of the culture and thought behind the language, and the history of Russia through the eyes of my extraordinary Professor, an exiled “White” Russian, Dr Nicholas Zisserman.  He gave me knowledge and insights which have shaped my life and career. To him I have a huge debt which I shall repay as best I can.

2Q Has there been a “Russian theme” to your career?
Russia is a thread which pulls my professional work together. Thanks to my Professor I had the opportunity to lecture in Russian studies for three years (1973-1975). I then had a thirty year career in the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1976-2006) with two postings to Moscow, in 1978-1980 and 2003-2006. On the second occasion I had the immense privilege of being New Zealand Ambassador to the Russian Federation.  Since 2006 I have had extensive experience in the business world, with my company, Prior Group, which provides consultancy services and promotes value-added business links between New Zealand and Russia.
In 2012 I was asked by the Belarusians to become their Honorary Consul in New Zealand. I was privileged to accept. Among other things I have been given an opportunity to work with Russia as one of three members of the Customs Union.
3Q How and when did you become involved in Russia-New Zealand cooperation?
Shortly after joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1976 I was included, as a Russian speaker and junior policy adviser, in the negotiating team for NZ/Soviet discussions on meat, dairy and fish products. This continued into the period of the 1977 Law of the Sea negotiations about Soviet access to New Zealand deepwater fisheries. This practical experience of the difficulties New Zealand officials faced in negotiating with Soviet counterparts was helpful during my time at the New Zealand Embassy in Moscow in 1978-1980 when I found my duties expanding to take in the role of acting Trade Commissioner. I thought then, as I do now, that New Zealand could and should be doing much better in building reliable, long-term cooperation with Russia, and not just in trade. I have done my best to promote cultural and other people-to-people links over the years.     
4Q Do you have personal links with Russia?
Yes. My youngest daughter is a Russian citizen – and a New Zealander. She is baptized into the Orthodox faith. I am proud of her connections with Russia. My wife is Russian, with Russian and Ukrainian roots. She is a linguist and cultural anthropologist. We met in Moscow 10 years ago when she was finishing her PhD in Cultural Anthropology at Moscow State University. Now she runs her own company Russian Keys Limited. My in-laws live in eastern Ukraine now – they are from Transdniestria, a Russian-speaking enclave left alone after a national conflict with Moldova in the early 1990s…
5Q After forty years of learning about and working with Russia – do you see potential for New Zealand and Russia to work together?
Without doubt – all sorts of businesses, especially in the value-added and high-tech areas, primary industries such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries; education and training, especially work-related; the use of New Zealand as an entry point to the dynamically developing Asia-Pacific region; the potential for “triangular” and “quadrilateral” or “Malevich” relations for business – I like to think of the latter (e.g. New Zealand+China+Russia+Singapore) as a Malevich Black Square.
6Q What are the barriers?
The first barrier is conceptual. Neither of us understands how a “win-win” partnership is on offer which can help each of us to move towards achieving our own national goals. The second barrier is the lack of champions. There are few champions in the older generations. That makes the younger generation critically important. Nowhere in New Zealand or Russia – or at least nowhere which I know of – can young New Zealanders and young Russians learn about each other’s countries and peoples in a constructive, focused way, which makes them aware of the myriad possibilities for working together in today’s world of globalization and the extraordinary opportunities which exist. 
7Q What is to be done?
Ensure that young people in both countries have the opportunity to learn about each other’s country: that New Zealand is not “Hobbitlandia” and Russia is not a “den” in which lurks a big black bear. This means Government-level support – from both countries – for education and training, and providers in these sectors prepared to invest time and long-term effort in practically-oriented learning about Russia and about New Zealand, consciously linked into relationships which each of us has with the global economy at large. 
8Q Are you optimistic about the future of New Zealand-Russian relations?
Without doubt. My Professor gave me access to the incredible store of Russian knowledge and culture which can help New Zealand to develop the cultured, value-added society, which will make us a world leader. There are things which we can offer to help Russia to take its rightful place as a great global power. Where there is the will, we shall find the way.
9Q Finally, I should like to put some rather unexpected questions to you.
-  What are some of the features which, in your experience, make New Zealanders and Russians different?
Russians are NOT Anglo-Saxons in the way they think and express themselves – they are more Asian than European; they are also a collective people, more like Maori/Polynesians in my long experience; Russians prefer plain speaking (but there is a difference between plain speaking in the public glare and plain speaking behind closed doors);
- Are there similarities?
Yes. I have the feeling that we are, each in our own way, island peoples. Russians live surrounded by an ocean of land. We live surrounded by an ocean of water. Distance and isolation are realities for both of us. Our cities and towns are like “islands”. The way we think, work and network can be surprisingly similar, especially once you get to know people as people. “Distance looks our way”: strangely enough, Russia’s “horizontal geography” – over 10000km from Kaliningrad in the west to the Commander islands in the East - is just about the same as New Zealand’s “vertical geography” – from the Northern Cook Islands to Scott Base in Antarctica is also just over 10000km.
Thank you, Mr Prior, for finding the time to give this interesting interview. As a result, our readers have a chance to get to know you (albeit virtually).



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Russia - New Zealand Quotes

There are the Russians, who are the Antipodes to all other nations, born, it would seem, into a different perspective or proportion, often overtaken by disaster owing to ignorance or vastness, but wrongly blamed for never having been happy.Sacheverell Sitwell, 1941
Жуткая трагедия в Южных морях! Три миллиона людей заживо попали в ловушку.Томас Скотт, 1979

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Russia - New Zealand History

Russian knowledge of New Zealand and the Maori dates from the late seventeenth century. New Zealand was the first region of Polynesia of which the Russians had authoritative data, all collected from the Dutch. The Dutch material was complemented in the later eighteenth century by primary accounts of Captain James Cook's several visits to that country and his lengthy stays within Queen Charlotte Sound.
In 1808 and 1814, the first Russian encounters with the Maori took place at Cape Town and Sydney. Though the officers of the Diana and Suvorov found the Maoris from the Bay of Islands (Matara, Ruatara, Hongi Hika, and others) intellectually quick and very friendly, they could not think of them other than as recent and potential cannibals.
The reports of Cook and his associates, published in German, French, and Russian, reinforced this association. Nonetheless, a Russian expedition led by Captain F.F. Bellingshausen paid a visit to Queen Charlotte Sound in 1820, using Cook's charts and accounts. It proved to be most important from the standpoint of ethnology, and was useful for the visitors as well, who were amply supplied with food. Glynn Barratt, Russia and the South Pacific, 1696-1840, Volume 2, University of British Columbia Press, 1988

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