SINGAPORE – Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday (June 11) reiterated his calls to tighten sanctions on Russia and its president Vladimir Putin as he addressed world leaders and senior defence officials at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
Speaking in his native Ukrainian language from a “secret location” in capital city Kyiv, he said the Russian army had “killed dozens of thousands of our people and deported thousands more to his territory”.
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24 in what it called a “special military operation” to demilitarise its neighbour.
Speaking to 575 delegates from 40 countries at Asia’s top security summit, Mr Zelensky also invoked Singapore’s founding Prime Minister in his virtual address, which lasted a little over 10 minutes.
“If there had been no international law and the big fish ate a small fish and a small fish ate shrimps... we would not have existed.
“These are wise words of Lee Kuan Yew, the leader who was perspicacious enough to see the clear reasons of many things and resources, and who knew exactly what is of value,” he said, referring to a 1966 speech by Mr Lee.
Singapore's then prime minister had quoted a Chinese proverb, “Big fish eat small fish; small fish eat shrimps”, but highlighted that some shrimp also have poisonous stings.
Mr Lee said that for the young nation to survive alongside neighbouring countries (small fish) and major world powers (big fish), it had to build up its defences or, like some other creatures that attach themselves to larger ones, form alliances with more powerful nations.
Mr Zelensky – who has previously addressed the parliaments of more than 20 countries as well as prominent gatherings at the UN Security Council and the Grammy music awards – has become known for adeptly tapping seminal historical events tailored to the country of his audience, from the Sept 11 terrorist attacks in the US to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
He also stressed the larger consequences of Russia’s blocking of ports in the Black Sea and Azov Sea.
“If due to Russian blockades we are unable to export our foodstuffs, the world will face an acute and severe food crisis and famine in many countries in Asia and Africa.
“The shortage of foodstuff will inexorably lead to political chaos, which can result in the falling of many governments and the ousting of many politicians,” he warned.
Before the war, Ukraine was the fourth largest wheat and corn exporter in the world.
In place of his now-trademark khaki top, the president sported a black T-shirt with the image of a girl spray painting a Ukrainian flag of blue and yellow – which he revealed to be a Made-in-Singapore print.
He said: “I was told about one girl. She wrote me a letter asking to support her initiative called Spray Paint Ukraine – an initiative aiming to help Ukraine. She created this NFT (non-fungible token) and presented me with the shirts for me to wear, to help everyone to discover her initiative.”
The illustrator, Ava Soh, 16, a Singaporean, described her print as a “young Ukrainian girl defiantly painting a new future” through “self-belief”.
Mr Zelensky added that he wore the T-shirt to illustrate how Ukraine has received worldwide support and “why we are definitely going to prevail in this war which Russia has started”.
Expressing his thanks for foreign support for his country, he added: “This support is not only for Ukraine, but for you as well. It is on the battlefields of Ukraine that the future rules of this world are being decided along with the boundaries of the possible.”
He had started his virtual speech saying: “Hopefully many offline meetings are yet to come during my future visits to your region after we win in this war (with Russia)”.
He ended his speech with his customary declaration: “Slava Ukraini” – Glory to Ukraine.