The Russian Embassy in New Zealand has shared a propaganda video targeting New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) personnel training Ukrainians in the United Kingdom.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says New Zealand rejects “the constant and systematic use of information manipulation and disinformation by the Russian Government”, while the Defence Minister has labelled the video as “misinformation”.
The Russian Embassy on Monday afternoon promoted the RT video, which features a presenter reporting that the NZDF had said its personnel had trained more than 1000 Ukraine recruits. It follows a media statement from the NZDF earlier this month noting the milestone.
The presenter said the training was “conducted mostly in the UK”.
“But who actually are these people getting state-of-the-art training and weapons in Great Britain?” the presenter said.
He goes on to say those getting trained in the UK include “Neo-Nazis and trigger-happy cowboys”.
Asked for comment on the tweet, an MFAT spokesperson said: “New Zealand continues to reject the constant and systematic use of information manipulation and disinformation by the Russian government as it attempts to defend its illegal and brutal war in Ukraine.”
They said the deployment of the NZDF to the UK was “consistent with international law”.
“Under the UN Charter, New Zealand is entitled to provide support to Ukraine to act in self-defence in response to Russia’s aggression.”
Defence Minister Andrew Little called it “misinformation”.
“RT is a propaganda arm of the Putin regime,” he told Newshub.
“I will not dignify misinformation which seeks to distract from Russia’s contempt for peace, human rights and international law. We continue to stand with the people of Ukraine as they resist Russia’s brutal and illegal invasion.”
An NZDF spokesperson also pointed out that contrary to the presenter saying the training was conducted “mostly” in the United Kingdom, all training has taken place there as part of a UK-led programme.
New Zealand has been contributing to the training of Ukrainian armed forces in the UK since last year. Earlier this month, the Government extended the deployment NZDF personnel involved in the training for another year.
“Infantry training teams deployed to the United Kingdom have trained more than 1000 members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine so far. Last year the NZDF artillery team trained almost 300 Ukrainians on the L119 Gun,” Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said at the time.
“The extension of this deployment of 95 personnel providing training and supporting for the Ukrainian armed forces for a further year demonstrates both our ongoing commitment to the defence of their homeland as well as the value of this commitment.”
Major Tony Harris, the senior national officer for a NZDF contingent deployed to the UK in January, said the trainees come from all walks of life.
“They arrive as civilians, grow in confidence as they develop their skills, and leave as soldiers to defend Ukraine,” he said.
“Many of those I have spoken to described their shock at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, more than a year ago. They hadn’t expected to be in this position where they are fighting for their way of life and the freedom of their country.”
This isn’t the first time the Russian Embassy in New Zealand has been accused of misinformation. It’s previously disputed credible reports of alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
There have been calls since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the Government to expel the Russian Ambassador, including from the Opposition. The Government’s rejected that, saying it would mean New Zealand representation in Russia could be kicked out.
“We have made our position on the invasion very clear,” MFAT said on Tuesday.
“Retaining diplomatic ties with Russia remains key to our ability to express our strong condemnation directly to Russia and to act in New Zealand’s interests on multilateral issues where Russia is also engaged.”
Like with the rest of its social media posts, the Russian Embassy has closed comments on the video on Facebook.
On Twitter, however, most users rubbished the claims made, including through the use of memes.