Ukraine crisis holds lessons for Little Red Dot

IN A TIGHT SPOT: A Ukrainian serviceman playing with a child on Tuesday, as men believed to be Russian servicemen stand in front of the gates of a Ukrainian military unit outside Simferopol.


    Mar 06, 2014

    Ukraine crisis holds lessons for Little Red Dot

    CRIMEA is lost to Ukraine. In some weeks or months, there will probably be a referendum or some other act of self-determination. A new state will then be set up in Crimea


    I doubt that Russia will intervene in East or South-east Ukraine in the same way it did in Crimea. Moscow need not resort to naked military intervention again to drive home the point that Russian interests cannot be disregarded in its "near abroad".

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has made himself look strong, and American and European leaders look weak. He can afford to stop.

    After a decent interval, the United States and the European Union will again "reset" relations with Russia. As a nuclear weapon state, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a major energy supplier, Russia simply cannot be ostracised forever.

    A European Union politician who spoke of freedom and democracy in December was not the only or the most important Western leader to give encouragement to the Ukrainians.

    It was irresponsible to do so without the capacity to deter Russian intervention or to respond effectively when Russia did intervene.

    None of this in any way excuses Russia's actions. As a small country, Singapore must take seriously any violation of the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, wherever and whenever they occur.

    I am certain that Singaporeans who have paid attention to recent events in Ukraine feel sympathy for its people.

    But more important than empathy for yet another country that has fallen prey to Great Power politics is that the plight of the Ukrainians holds valuable lessons for us.

    Do not just listen to the sweet words of foreigners, however pleasing to the ear. We must calculate our own interests as clinically as we can and not let anyone beguile us into believing they know better.

    The West speaks often and eloquently of democracy and elections with a near religious fervour. The ousted Yanukovych government, whatever its failings, was popularly elected in a manner that, just four years ago, the US and the EU hailed as free and fair.

    Yet, when the US and EU thought that it was in their interests, they did not hesitate to recognise the government that seized power in Kiev after Mr Viktor Yanukovych was forced from office.

    In doing so, they broke an agreement to hold new elections that had been signed by him, the Ukrainian opposition and the European foreign ministers themselves just weeks earlier.

    A Russian special envoy was present at those negotiations but did not sign. That was a strong signal that should have been heeded.

    Why did the US and EU miscalculate so disastrously? One important reason why they were blindsided by Russia was that, having no stomach for drastic action themselves, they thought everyone else was similarly squeamish.

    The US and the EU responded to the new government in Kiev by immediately offering International Monetary Fund assistance. This was undoubtedly very necessary. But they failed to understand that Russia's calculations and priorities were entirely different.

    The US and EU mistook their own beliefs and hopes for reality. We must never do that.

    A world ruled by international law is the ideal world for small states. But is this really such a world? Perhaps sometimes, or even most times, but not all the time.

    International law is an instrument of state policy, not an autonomous reality. Great powers resort to it only when convenient. Russia is not unique in this respect. This is a dangerous world.

    The US and EU have suffered a blow to their credibility. But they, or at least the US, will eventually recover. It is the Ukrainian people who paid and who will continue to pay the heaviest price for Western miscalculations.

    There is yet another particularly apt lesson here for Singaporeans.

    Calls for a reduction in national service commitments should be regarded with great scepticism. We must never lose the ability to look after ourselves, because if we cannot do so, nobody will look after us.


    The writer is ambassador at large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he was, until May last year, its permanent secretary. He was Singapore's ambassador to Russia in 1994-1995. This is an excerpt of a piece that originally ran in The Straits Times.