16 March 2022

Was it wise for Singapore to impose sanctions on Russia?

As war wages on in Ukraine, American president Joe Biden leans on reluctant NATO allies in Europe, long dependent on Russian gas, to stand with the Ukrainians against the invasion. Russia must be punished, yet not hard enough that it could spark another World War. Biden instigates his European allies to propose and vote to condemn the war in the United Nations, while many others refrain from taking a stand. Like most of the world outside NATO, in fact.

Mykhailo Khmelko depicts the Treaty of Pereyaslav in a 1951 painting.

The few Asian nations to impose sanctions on Russia are America's closest allies: South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. And then, there is Singapore. This move has international observers scratching their heads. It is unexpected, uncharacteristic, and unprecedented. Singapore does not live in the shadow of Russia nor is it a NATO member. Nor would most people describe it as a close ally of America. Singapore's brand of diplomacy has been quiet and low key; it rarely sticks out, if ever, from the ASEAN consensus position.

There are those who argue that Singapore should have stayed on the sidelines like its neighbours. That it should play the role of a neutral peacemaker. That Singapore's pro-Ukraine positioning is too extreme, and going further to impose sanctions against Russia is a mistake.