SINGAPORE - Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a "clear and gross" violation of international norms and sets a completely unacceptable precedent, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday (Feb 28), Dr Balakrishnan said the invasion goes to the heart of the fundamental norms of international law, with the United Nations Charter prohibiting the use of force and acts of aggression against another sovereign state.
"This is an existential issue for us," he told the House in a ministerial statement that set out Singapore's stance and response to the escalating conflict in Ukraine.
A world order based on the principle that might is right, or where the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must would be detrimental to Singapore, he stressed.
"Such a world order would be profoundly inimical to the security and survival of small states," said Dr Balakrishnan.
"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 territorial integrity of many countries, including Singapore."
The conflict in Ukraine is the culmination of months-long tensions between the country and neighbouring Russia, with Russian President Vladimir Putin authorising a military operation in eastern Ukraine last Thursday (Feb 24).
The situation has since escalated into Europe's biggest conflict since World War II, as Russian forces have captured several parts of Ukraine but have yet to take control of its capital Kyiv and the country's second-largest city, Kharkhiv.
Russia has been building up its military presence along the Ukrainian border over the past several months to exert pressure on the country and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).
Ukraine, a nation slightly smaller than Myanmar with about 43 million people, wants to join Nato, a military alliance of 30 countries in Europe and North America, but Russia is concerned that any such move would tip the global power balance against it.
Nations around the world, including Singapore, have condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Some European countries, such as Germany and Italy, have pledged to send weapons and battle equipment to Ukraine, while others like the United States have hit Russia with sanctions aimed at crippling its economy.
Over the weekend, the US, Britain, Europe and Canada moved to block Russia's access to the Swift international payment system.
The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (Swift) is a secure messaging system to ensure rapid cross-border payments which has become the principal mechanism to finance international trade.
Dr Balakrishan said the sovereignty, 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, and this is why the country has strongly condemned Russia's unprovoked attack on Ukraine, he added.
It is too easy for a small country to be caught up in the geopolitical games of big powers, warned Dr Balakrishnan.
He said small countries must avoid becoming sacrificial pawns, vassal states or "cat's paws" to be used by one side against the other. It is for this reason that Singapore works hard to maintain good relations with all its neighbours and with big powers.
When situations arise, Singapore's assessments and actions are based on clearly enunciated and consistently held principles that are in its own long-term national interests. Rather than choosing sides, the country upholds its principles.
But this will not always be the case, he said. "There will be occasions when we will have to take a stand, even if it is contrary to one or more powers on the basis of principles as we are doing now."
Singapore can draw important lessons from Ukraine’s invasion, said Dr Balakrishnan, noting that while international law and diplomatic principles are essential, they are not sufficient.
The ongoing crisis demonstrates how quickly a vulnerable country can be overrun, especially when confronting a larger and more powerful opponent, he said. “This is the acute reality for all small countries, and Singapore is no exception.”
Singapore cannot depend on others for protection and must never lose the ability to defend and look after itself, added Dr Balakrishnan.
The country has thus invested consistently in defence to build up the strength and credibility of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), and maintained national service as a fundamental element.
“The capability of the SAF 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,” he said.
“Without such capability and resolve, no amount of diplomacy can save a country.”
Watch Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan's full speech in Parliament: