Bear and Kiwi: A Sixty-Five Year Link: Andrey Tatarinov Notes the 65th Anniversary, on 13 April 2009, of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between New Zealand and Russia

By Tatarinov, Andrey | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview

Bear and Kiwi: A Sixty-Five Year Link: Andrey Tatarinov Notes the 65th Anniversary, on 13 April 2009, of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between New Zealand and Russia


Tatarinov, Andrey, New Zealand International Review


It is significant that official relations between New Zealand and Russia were established in 1944, during their alliance in the Second World War. ]he contribution to the common victory by the New Zealand sailors and airmen who participated actively in the operations escorting and protecting allied transport ships that delivered both military and civil cargoes to Russia on the Arctic convoys is still remembered with gratitude in Russia. From 1941 to 1945 seventy-seven convoys, involving more than 800 ships, sailed to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, enduring many hardships, including ice and enemy fire. Tragically many of those ships were lost, and thousands of courageous people sacrificed their lives for victory.

On the occasion of the victory anniversary in 2005, Russian special anniversary medals were issued, and 276 New Zealand war veterans who participated in the Arctic convoys were presented with them. On the waterfront in the centre of Wellington a memorial bronze plaque in honour of the Arctic convoys was placed at the initiative of the Russian Embassy, and every year on 9 May a wreath-laying ceremony takes place in front of the plaque.

First contact

Official Russian-New Zealand contacts date back to 1914, when an honorary vice-consul reporting to the Russian General Consul in Melbourne was appointed to Wellington. New Zealand was then a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. However, the first acquaintance of Russian people with New Zealand occurred early in 19th century. In May 1821 the Russian sloops Vostok and Mirnyi, under the command of Captain Fabian Gottlieb Benjamin von Bellingshausen, part of the first Russian Antarctic expedition, visited Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound in the South Island for the replenishment of food and water. Their encounters with the indigenous Maori people of the country went off peacefully and were friendly, and one could suggest that this visit of Russian sailors to New Zealand laid the foundation for the development of future trade, cultural and scientific links between the two countries. Items of Maori clothing, carved wooden and stone objects, including weapons, became valuable exhibits in Russian museums. This famous Russian navigator and scientist made an important contribution to the exploration and description of New Zealand.

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Despite the geographical distance that separates the two countries, relations between them have been developing steadily. They have become particularly dynamic in the last several years. The first official visit to Russia by the New Zealand Governor-General took place in May 2005 when Dame Silvia Cartwright attended the celebration of the 60th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War. Two RNZN ships, HMNZS Te Mana and Endeavour, visited the port of Vladivostok in June 2005, also as part of the commemoration of the Great Victory. A return visit by the Russian navy is expected.

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International summits

Contacts between the leaders of Russia and New Zealand are conducted during important international summits. Meetings between the heads of foreign policy agencies have been put on a regular basis. Thus, on the sidelines of the last APEC summit in Lima, bilateral talks were held between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his New Zealand counterpart, Murray McCully. Inter-parliamentary contacts have also become more frequent. In January 2008 the Chairman of the Council of Federation of the Russian Federal Assembly (the upper chamber of parliament), Sergey Mironov, paid an official visit to New Zealand during his participation in the 16th session of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Auckland. In 2007 former Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament Margaret Wilson was in Moscow for a similar visit.

Good contacts have been established between the Russian friendship group in the New Zealand Parliament and the deputies' group of the State Duma for liaison with the New Zealand and Australian parliaments. …

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