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NEW ZEALAND- RUSSIA RELATIONS – SIXTY YEARS ON, AN EMBASSY PERSPECTIVE

Stuart Prior, Ambassador (2003-2006), New Zealand Embassy, Moscow


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 market for New Zealand agricultural commodities of major importance in the 1970s and 1980s stimulated contacts wider 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.



 

Russia - New Zealand History

Every day that we were there the Zealanders would arrive at our sloops at about 10 in the morning and would remain until evening. Having traded their goods they would have lunch with us. They ate our dry bread, peas, kasha and sugar with real appetite. They did not like our salt beef at all and were not great fans of the pork, nor were they able to drink our rum and wine. From time to time they would help our sailors in their work, for which the hardest workers would be rewarded with nails. Sometimes, making merry, they would give us the pleasure of watching their dances and listening to their songs. For this, about 15 men would stand in a single line. One of them, stamping his foot, would begin to sing. In mid-verse there would suddenly be a common, quite quick and wild shout, then they would lift their arms up, extend them, and let them fall, while strongly stamping their feet, distorting their whole bodies and making fierce faces. They would finish this song by going down on one knee and making a frightful, lingering laugh. Our sailors adopted their dance and song very well indeed, and on our sloop at the South Pole where the daily dangers depressed the spirit, they would sometimes cheer everybody up with their imitation (of the haka - translated by Prior Group). N.Galkin, surgeon on board the Russian vessel “Mirny” (Peaceful), during their stay in New Zealand, Queen Charlotte Sound, Russian Expedition, 1820

Stuart Prior, Honorary Consul for Belarus in New Zealand

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