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Singapore to impose sanctions on Russia, including export controls and certain bank transactions: Vivian Balakrishnan

In a ministerial statement, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan said that in its conduct of foreign policy, Singapore upholds principles instead of choosing sides.

SINGAPORE: Singapore will impose sanctions on Russia "in concert with other like-minded countries", said Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Feb 28), citing “the unprecedented gravity" of the Russian invasion in Ukraine.

The measures will include imposing export controls on items that can be used directly as weapons in Ukraine, and blocking certain Russian bank and financial transactions connected to Russia.

Delivering a ministerial statement on the matter in Parliament, Dr Balakrishnan detailed Singapore's approach to conducting foreign policy: "Instead of choosing sides, we uphold principles. Consequently, when we conduct our foreign policy in a coherent and consistent manner, we also become reliable partners for those who operate the same principles.

"However, there will be occasions when we have to stake a stand, even if it is contrary to one or more powers, on the basis of principles, as we are doing now." 

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore has “rarely acted” to impose sanctions on other countries, in the absence of binding United Nations Security Council decisions or directions.

"However, given the unprecedented gravity of the Russian attack on Ukraine and the unsurprising veto by Russia of a draft Security Council Resolution, Singapore intends to act in concert with many other like-minded countries to impose appropriate sanctions and restrictions against Russia," said Dr Balakrishnan.

Dr Balakrishnan also noted that Singapore was one of 82 co-sponsors of a recent United Nations Security Council Resolution to condemn Russia's aggression against Ukraine. Ultimately, it was not passed, as Russia – a permanent member of the council – vetoed it.

Three other members – China, India and the United Arab Emirates – abstained, while the remaining 11 of 15 members supported it.

He noted that the UN General Assembly will debate a similar resolution later on Monday. And while these General Assembly resolutions are neither binding, nor subject to a veto, Singapore “will comply with the spirit and the letter” of the decision “as a responsible member of the international community”, he said.

EXPORT CONTROLS ON ITEMS THAT CAN BE USED AS WEAPONS

“In particular, we will impose export controls on items that can be used directly as weapons in Ukraine to inflict harm or to subjugate the Ukrainians.

“We will also block certain Russian banks and financial transactions connected to Russia,” he said, adding that specific measures will be announced shortly.

He added that Singapore must expect the measures to “come at some cost and implications” for businesses, citizens and to the country.

“However, unless we, as a country, stand up for principles that are the very foundation for the independence and sovereignty of smaller nations, our own right to exist and prosper as a nation may similarly be called into question.”

He noted that Singapore values its “good relations” with Russia and its people, but such “violations of sovereignty and territorial integrity of another sovereign state” cannot be accepted.

He added that Singapore will continue working with international partners to “take a strong stance against the invasion of Ukraine”, end further violence and de-escalate tensions.

EXISTENTIAL ISSUE FOR SINGAPORE: BALAKRISHNAN

Dr Balakrishnan noted that while Ukraine is far from Singapore, authorities are following the crisis with “grave concern” and its economic effects can already be felt, such as in rising electricity and petrol prices.

The main reason the situation in Ukraine is important to Singapore is because it goes 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”, he said.

“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.”

Dr Balakrishnan added that a world order based on “might is right” would be “profoundly inimical to the security and survival of small states”.

“We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification, arguing that his independence was the result of ‘historical errors and crazy decisions’.

“Such a rationale would go against the internationally recognised legitimacy and territorial integrity of many countries, including Singapore.”

While strongly urging Russia to cease its offensive military actions and to work for a peaceful settlement instead, he said Singapore has also called for humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and all those in need.

He noted that Singapore Red Cross has pledged US$100,000 to support communities affected by the current crisis, and also launched a public fundraising appeal. The Singapore Government will also contribute US$100,000 to this humanitarian operation through the organisation.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday evening said in a statement on Monday evening that the contribution by the Government will go towards the provision of relief supplies such as hygiene kits, family kits and household kits for people displaced by the conflict.

IMPORTANT LESSONS FOR SINGAPORE

Dr Balakrishnan added that there are important lessons for Singapore to draw from the crisis – including that while international law and diplomatic principles are essential, “they are not sufficient”.

“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.”

He added: “You cannot depend on others to protect your country.” And this is why Singapore has invested consistently to build credible armed forces, and why National Service is an important element for the nation, he said.

“The capability of the (Singapore Armed Forces) must be undergirded by Singaporeans’ resolve, the iron determination of our people to fight and die if need be, to defend what is ours and our way of life. Without such capability and resolve, no amount of diplomacy can save a country.”

In addition, he said small countries must avoid becoming “sacrificial pawns, vassal states or cat's paws to be used by one side against the other”.

But when situations arise, Singapore’s assessments and actions are based on “clearly enunciated and consistently-held principles that are in our own long term national interests”.

Dr Balakrishnan added that as a young nation, it is vital to maintain domestic unity and cohesion, as internal divisions can be exploited by others.

“Therefore, our domestic politics must stop at our shores. And I thank all Members of Parliament for adhering to this precept. And I would share that I've also shared this point with the leader of the opposition, Mr Pritam Singh.”

Finally, safeguarding sovereignty and national interest often requires some sacrifice, just as the Ukrainians are paying “the ultimate price for freedom with their lives and livelihoods”, said Dr Balakrishnan.

“The rest of the international community that is taking a stand against naked aggression through sanctions will also have to bear some pain and pay a price.

“Singaporeans too must understand that standing up for our national interests may come with some costs. We must be prepared to deal with the consequences to bear the pain to help one another and to stand up together.”

Source: CNA/cl

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