Diplomacy Russia Ukraine

Ukraine war echoes as far as ‘neutral’ Singapore

| 2022-03-01 3 min read

Ukraine war echoes as far as ‘neutral’ Singapore

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Singapore is sometimes compared to Switzerland, for its tradition of taking neutral positions on international conflicts. However the Asian nation’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan issued a statement from Singapore yesterday, in response to the Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Central European Times publishes Balakrishnan’s comment in full below:

We are witnessing an unprovoked military invasion of a sovereign State as we speak. Ukraine is a large country with a multilingual and multi-religious population of approximately 44 million people. It has a long history, with complex relations with Russia and the other states in the region. Ukraine became independent in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Shortly thereafter in 1994, Ukraine was persuaded to give up its nuclear arsenal, at that time the third-largest in the world, by signing on to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

In return, Russia, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK), via the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, “reaffirmed their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (UN)”. Words which perhaps ring quite hollow today. 

Since then, Ukraine has faced considerable domestic political turmoil, exacerbated by the separatist movements and tensions with Russia. Twenty years after the Budapest Memorandum, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 whilst the world watched. Conflicts on the ground in Donbas have continued for the past eight years, with episodic limited ceasefires. And beginning in spring 2021, Russia massed over 100,000 troops at its borders with Ukraine.

In January 2022, cyberattacks were launched against the Ukrainian government websites. On the 21st of February 2022, Russia recognised two breakaway Ukrainian regions, and announced that Russian troops would start performing what it called, “peacekeeping operations”.

On the 24th of February 2022, Russia announced the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine. This was followed shortly by air, land and sea attacks on multiple targets across the whole of Ukraine. Russian ground forces including armoured formations rapidly entered Ukraine from the north, the south and the east, and have reached the capital Kyiv.

Grave concern

Whilst Ukraine is far away from us, we are following the crisis with grave concern. Its economic effects can already be felt here, for example, in rising electricity and petrol prices. But these are not the principal reason the situation in Ukraine is important to us. The events in Ukraine go to the heart of the fundamental norms of international law and the UN Charter, that prohibit the use of force and acts of aggression against another sovereign State. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a clear and gross violation of the international norms and a completely unacceptable precedent.This is an existential issue for us.

Ukraine is much smaller than Russia, but it is much bigger than Singapore. A world order based on “might is right”, or where “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”, such a world order would be profoundly inimical to the security and survival of small states.

We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification, arguing that its independence was the result of “historical errors and crazy decisions”. Such a rationale would go against the internationally recognised legitimacy and the territorial integrity of many countries, including Singapore. That is why we are a staunch supporter of international law and the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. The sovereignty, the political independence and the territorial integrity of all countries, big and small, must be respected.

Singapore must take any violation of these core principles seriously, whenever and wherever they occur. This is why Singapore has strongly condemned Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. 
It is heartbreaking to see the heavy casualties and the loss of many innocent lives, resulting from this unjustified attack and act of war.

Important lessons

There are important lessons for us to draw from this current Ukrainian crisis:  First, whilst international law and diplomatic principles are essential, they are not sufficient. The Budapest Memorandum was supposed to guarantee Ukraine’s security by three nuclear powers – Russia, the US, and the UK. But agreements are only meaningful if the parties respect them, and if they can be enforced. The invasion of Ukraine demonstrates how quickly a vulnerable country can be overrun, especially when confronting a larger and more powerful opponent.  This is the acute reality for all small countries, and Singapore is no exception.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 are stark reminders of this. You cannot depend on others to protect your country. Thus, we must never lose the ability to defend and look after ourselves. … Without such capability and resolve, no amount of diplomacy can save a country. Second, it is all too easy for a small country to be caught up in the geopolitical games of big powers. Small countries must avoid becoming sacrificial pawns, vassal states or “cat’s paws” to be used by one side against the other.

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