Key: Kiwis should compete in Paralympics despite crisis

NZ Paralympics team spokeswoman Melissa Dawson said the team had no plans to pull out of Sochi as a result of the Ukrainian situation. Photo / AP
NZ Paralympics team spokeswoman Melissa Dawson said the team had no plans to pull out of Sochi as a result of the Ukrainian situation. Photo / AP

Prime Minister John Key says New Zealand athletes should complete in the Sochi Winter Paralympics despite Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

The games in the resort city on Russia's Black Sea coast are due to begin on Friday, but the United States says it will not send a presidential delegation because of the Crimean crisis.

Read more of the Herald's Ukraine coverage today:
. Ex-PM's plea to the West
Putin must back down, says Key
Ukraine: 10 things you need to know
Symbolic acts of defiance in face of Russian threat
Editorial: Riposte must hurt Russia, help Ukraine

Mr Key told TV3's Firstline he had not taken long to consider the issue. However, New Zealand athletes should compete.

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"I guess the answer to that is yes. There's maybe an element of inconsistency there but I'm not aware of other countries pulling their athletes out and, as a general rule, New Zealand has participated in Olympic Games and sporting contests despite the things that we see around is ... That's been our position, I imagine that's what will be maintained."

New Zealand did not compete in the Moscow Olympics in 1980 because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan.

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Mr Key said that was "much further down the track, I think, than this particular situation".

NZ Paralympics team spokeswoman Melissa Dawson said the team had no plans to pull out of Sochi as a result of the Ukrainian situation.

"We've been talking to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on a regular basis and taking direction from them in terms of travel recommendations to Sochi.

"We'll be monitoring what's happening and going from there."

The team's operation manager and Chef de Mission Ashley Light and two of New Zealand's three athletes were due to arrive at the Paralympic Village tomorrow, Ms Dawson said.

- No decision to recall ambassador yet -

Asked whether the Government was considering recalling New Zealand's ambassador to Moscow, Foreign Minister Murray McCully said: "Let's just wait and see how things emerge over the next few days".

"We're not out of the woods yet.

"That's something we would consider if we thought the circumstances required it. It's not on our agenda at the moment."

Mr McCully said Russian Ambassador to New Zealand Valery Tereshchenko expressed his country's point of view when he met with Foreign Ministry officials yesterday, "and I think in Moscow we've had similar indications of the Russian viewpoint which of course is that there's no invasion going on".

Mr McCully said further trade or sporting sanctions against Russia would be "getting ahead of the game at the moment".

"What we most need at the moment is a period of de-escalating the tensions rather than ramping them up by inventing new things to do to each other and I'm rather hoping we might see a period of quiet later on today rather than another step in the wrong direction and hopefully something coming of the discussions that the German Chancellor and others have had with President Putin to try and establish a point of dialogue."

Parliament this afternoon unanimously backed a motion from Mr McCully expressing "deep concern at the Russian Federation's violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, in breach of its international obligations" and calling for "steps to de-escalate tensions including the withdrawal of Russian troops back to base, and the promotion of dialogue among the affected parties".

As a small country, New Zealand depended "on good institutions and rules to promote constructive international conduct" Mr McCully said.

"What has happened in the Crimea in recent days challenges basic concepts of acceptable international behaviour."

While Labour supported the motion and foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer said the withdrawal of Mr Groser from Moscow was appropriate, he questioned why the trade minister had travelled to Russia to continue free trade negotations at all in recent days.

"Tim Groser's presence in Moscow at this time appears out of step with statements and actions of other countries. This is no time for business as usual."

- APNZ

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