Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern doesn't remember the last conversation she had with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The pair have crossed paths a number of times, at various international forums with impenetrable acronyms. Putin's "not one for engagement", in Ardern's recollection - even in more private settings in which leaders tend to relax a bit, free from the prying eyes of the public.
"I've had the odd opportunity [to meet Putin] in the margins of meetings where it's just leaders in the room, and that has been one of my observations," Ardern said.
She doesn't know what she'll say to Putin when or if she ever sees him again, should he drag himself out of the international doghouse and back onto the global leaders' circuit. Indeed, the question of what she'd say to Putin if she ever saw him again has Ardern (who, like most politicians, has an answer for almost everything) stumped.
There'll be no "shirt-fronting" of Putin as former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott once said he would do.
Ardern sat down with the Herald last week to discuss her trip to Europe which begins on Sunday night, New Zealand time. The first stop is Madrid, for a Nato leaders' summit, and a visit with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who is fast-becoming one of Ardern's closes international friends (Sanchez came through for Ardern last year when he helped save the vaccine rollout by offering up Spanish vaccines).
Though not a member of Nato, a northern-hemisphere security pact, Ardern has been invited to the conference with the leaders of other Indo-Pacific nations, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. The meeting is likely to focus on Ukraine and the question of a rising China, which will be included in Nato's new "Strategic Concept", a once-in-a-decade document that sets out how Nato looks at the world.
Ardern then heads to Brussels, where negotiators are in the final stages of talks on a free trade agreement with the EU.
She will then head to London, where she will meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with whom New Zealand has just concluded trade talks and inked a widely applauded trade deal.
Putin hangs over the trip. Nato is the vehicle through which New Zealand has sent much of its aid to Ukraine. Its president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will appear (via video-link) at the conference, addressing the leaders who have done so much to help his war effort. It will be the first time Ardern and Zelenskyy have appeared at the same forum since war broke out.
Trade talks in Brussels not just about bigger quotas
Putin hangs over trade talks in Brussels too.
Primary industry leaders are understood to be concerned any trade deal with the EU will not deliver concessions on market access for their goods, particularly dairy and beef. It's hoped that rampant food price inflation, triggered by the war, might help twist the EU's arm with the promise of cheaper food imports from New Zealand.
The difficulty here is twofold: New Zealand is seeking larger quotas for its goods to enter the EU at lower tariffs, however just winning a larger quota is not enough. Within that quota, goods will still be subject to tariffs.
If those tariffs are too high, then securing a larger quota is meaningless because the cost of sending those goods to the EU makes them uncompetitive when they arrive there.
This can be seen this in some goods sold in Europe, where New Zealand already has market access quotas, but the tariffs applied to goods within those quotas are so high New Zealand only uses a portion of its total quota access.
Even within the quotas, the EU's high tariffs make New Zealand's goods uncompetitive on European shelves. Kiwifruit, honey, and dairy from New Zealand have tariffs applied to them at a higher rate than other EU trading partners like Chile.
Ardern acknowledged that "dairy and beef is very sensitive for the EU. Right now, we're negotiating with 25 plus economies and negotiating teams. It's very complex."
While she appeared to manage expectations around beef and diary, she appeared optimistic on other goods.
"It's always about what both parties can get," Ardern said.
"Horticulture and kiwifruit have a very, very uneven playing field, so that's what we're seeking," Ardern said.
She thinks what the EU gets out of New Zealand is a trading partner with values, particularly commitments to climate change (this is possibly a nudge to New Zealand's agricultural sector, which is squeamish about attempts to subject itself to emissions pricing, and outright resistant to attempts to make that pricing meaningful).
"They're looking for an ability to demonstrate that actually trade can have values within it. That is what we offer," Ardern said.
"Don't for a moment assume that the things we are trying to do domestically on climate change don't matter. It is becoming one of the core reasons we are in this negotiation in the first place because the EU sees that we are adding values and they want to use that as a demonstration of the way that trade can be used in the future," Ardern said.
An end to independent foreign policy?
Despite the long-term economic and strategic importance of the EU deal, it's the Nato leaders' summit that has Wellington buzzing, with some questioning whether it's a sign that New Zealand's hardening stance on China (a response, in part, to China's increasingly hardening stance on everyone else), and participation in the Ukraine invasion response, is a sign of a deterioration in New Zealand's independent foreign policy in favour of alignment with traditional, western allies.
New Zealand has pursued an independent foreign policy since the fourth Labour government's nuclear free legislation, effectively withdrawing New Zealand from the Anzus pact,
Unsurprisingly, Ardern disagreed with the idea that she is leading New Zealand away from that post-84 independence in world affairs. She said the independent foreign policy is more difficult to maintain now than it has been in the past, but she said it is becoming "increasingly important" that New Zealand makes the effort to maintain that independence nonetheless.
In terms of Nato, Ardern said the independent foreign policy, "doesn't restrict our ability to continue to build strong relationships and to play a strong role in multilateral institutions that we've historically relied on".
"This is something I've been thinking about a lot because the environment is rapidly changing around us, but New Zealand continues to be utterly consistent and that's regardless of the government that's in at any given time".
Ardern thinks that the rapidly-changing security environment means New Zealand needs to "firm up the values we use" to "determine our foreign policy decision-making".
She believes these values - the "pre-considered lens that you use for foreign policy", as Ardern described them - are particularly important when significant foreign policy decisions must be made quickly, as was the case when deciding where New Zealand's place was in the response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"The need that was there and the requests that were being made of the international community meant that you had to move with relative haste if you're going to play a role that was meaningful at that time," Ardern said.
And what are these values?
"First and foremost, being able to stand up on the world stage in defence of the international rules-based order, and those norms and values and we will always stand very clearly in articulating where we see a breach of those.
"Secondly, the importance of those multilateral institutions [the United Nations, for example] in pursuing where there had been a breach and if we see those being threatened, undermined, or in need of strengthening, we will play a really strong role in that as well.
"So you saw us speaking really firmly around the UN needing to play a role in Ukraine in the same way we have for the WTO needing to play a role where trade is concerned," Ardern said.
The final value is, "if New Zealand is unable to see the rules-based order supported by those institutions", Ardern would seek to still impress the importance of those institutions. Here, she cited the example of the Russians sanctions legislation, where the Government made clear that it would have preferred to follow the UN route to sanction Russia, but because of Russia's veto powers neutering the powerful UN Security Council, this avenue was closed and bespoke legislation was used instead.
Ardern's foreign policy was tested early in her leadership when the Government was forced to respond to the Salisbury poisonings of 2018, which were widely pinned on Russia. Back then, the Government was thought to have responded more slowly and with less vigour than other western democracies to Russia's aggression.
Not so on Ukraine, where New Zealand's response was relatively forceful, and relatively quick.
She's currently contemplating laying out this foreign policy more clearly in a speech - not the speech she will deliver to London's Chatham House on this trip (fortunately, for those wanting to tune in to that speech, it will not be protected by Chatham House's eponymous rule).
Ardern agreed that the international security picture had become more unstable over her time in office. She put much of this down to changing technology.
"What I see is this ongoing evolution. We see these reasons why the way some countries engage with the world is changing because actually the methods of engaging with the world are changing.
"We're not just seeing, for instance, a war on the ground in Ukraine. We're also seeing a cyber-based war attached to it as well, so the threat landscape is changing - previously we might have thought about foreign interference through a quite simple lens, but now the ability to influence other nations has broadened vastly as technology has changed too," Ardern said.
What could they want?
One of the asks Nato might have of Ardern and New Zealand is that the Government lift defence spending to the target Nato asks of its own members: 2 per cent of GDP.
Ardern is non-committal on whether she would consider lifting spending, noting that New Zealand spends 1.59 per cent of GDP already, which is more than some Nato member countries.
But what if she is asked?
"Our independent foreign policy kicks in. We get asked for particular responses, we get asked for a particular resource and investment, and we will always make those decisions on our terms, based on our regional needs," Ardern said.
New Zealand has been a Nato partner for a decade. Ardern said the relationship means that in certain theatres, New Zealand has a partner it can co-operate with, but she said any decision on whether to get involved with Nato is based on whether its a "conflict or area of tension where we believe we have a role to play".
Ardern said Ukraine was the best example of this. New Zealand wanted to be involved in the response, and "the fastest way New Zealand could do that was through other partners and through the Nato trust fund".
Making friends at Nato is not without controversy. China, New Zealand's most important trading partner, is unlikely to be impressed by Ardern's attendance at an event where Nato will issue a new "Strategic Concept" which will likely carry an explicit warning about the implications of China's rise on global security.
Ardern said New Zealand would be "transparent" about what its attendance at Nato means, which is building relationships in an uncertain world, although she acknowledged that one reason New Zealand might be at a forum like Nato could be that other international institutions were not agile enough for New Zealand's needs.
"This is not particularly new. New Zealand has been a [Nato] partner for 10 years," she said.
"The world is in a hurry to connect and build relationships with each other. In some ways that might be a response to the growing threatscape, it might be a response to whether or not we have the same agility in the multilateral institutions we need.
"The way New Zealand approaches those is again with the same set of values: transparency, openness, and with a view that we want peace and stability in the region," she said.
"Regardless of whether it's the Quad or Aukus [two security deals in the Asia-Pacific region], we'll apply the same approach," Ardern said.
"When it comes to our relationship with China we are really consistent. What we say in a Nato forum will be exactly what we say publicly. Consistency is also key. No one will be surprised by our position on issues," Ardern said.
"What we share in private is what we share in public," she said.
She said there will "always be tension" in some relationships with countries that "have a different history, culture, political systems".
"For us, a sign of maturity in a relationship ... has the ability for you to talk about those things that you agree on and that are mutually beneficial, whilst being able to strongly disagree, and that is what we have always sought in our relationships".