It would be naïve to think there was no intelligence from the Russian Embassy in Wellington or other sources in New Zealand, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says.

New Zealand's partners in the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance knew that there may be no intelligence officers as such at the embassy and had said so.

"However, to say there's no intelligence from that or other sources would be naïve," Peters told reporters today.

He would not go detail what sort of spies were active in New Zealand.


"If I was to disclose that I would be breaking the rules with respect to how we should discuss disclosure about what our intelligence agencies are doing."

The Government has been criticised for failing to follow suit after 26 countries kicked out Russian diplomats in retaliation for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Peters have said they had been advised by the SIS that there were no Russians who fitted the criteria of those being deported overseas here in New Zealand - undeclared intelligence agents.

Those claims have been mocked in foreign media as New Zealand being unable to find any Russian spies to kick out.

The other members of Five Eyes – the UK, US, Canada and Australia - have all expelled Russian diplomats, but 17 staff remain at the Russian Embassy in Wellington.

Peters said the Five Eyes partners had expelled people who were undeclared intelligence agents.

"In the case where they [Five Eyes partners] were talking to us, they said it may be … you haven't got any," Peters said.

Yesterday Peters confirmed there was Russian intelligence activity in New Zealand.


In answer to a question in Parliament, he said: "The NZSIS advise us it is aware of Russian intelligence activity in New Zealand and where it is seen, appropriate action is taken.

Later, he said the fact that no one fitted the profile of those being expelled overseas, didn't mean that the SIS and agencies were not acting against espionage and illegal intelligence–gathering.

Asked by National's foreign affairs spokesman Todd McClay in Parliament today how long he had been aware of Russian intelligence activity in New Zealand, Peters replied: "Since I was a young boy," to laughter from the House and a reprimand from the Speaker to restrict himself to the time he had ministerial responsibility .

The Government is currently considering travel bans for some Russian travellers.

The issue of Russia came up when Peters met British High Commissioner Laura Clarke this morning.

Clarke had understood entirely New Zealand's actions over the last few days, he said.

"She mirrored in her conversation what she has said in press statements to [the media] in the past, which was a message of gratitude for the action we've taken."

Earlier this month, Clarke said Britain was "very pleased that New Zealand's been very clear in its statement that, as I quote, it 'shares the UK's outrage'.

However, she said New Zealand signing any future free trade agreement with Russia could possibly create an issue of "compatibility" with similar agreements signed with the EU and UK post-Brexit.