After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, what kind of PM are Singaporeans now looking for?

Will the Russian invasion of Ukraine have an impact on who Singapore’s next Prime Minister is? Very likely. We may have to narrow the search now to getting a leader (or a team) who can properly manage Singapore’s well-being in a dramatically changed world, one quite different from that before the Feb 24 invasion.

Up to Vladimir Putin’s mission to rescue Ukrainians from an alleged Neo-Nazi cabal and “return them” to the fold of Mother Russia, and in so doing blatantly breaking all the ground rules of being one of the signatory guarantors for Ukraine’s place in the sun, we thought the two most important things to worry about were Covid-19 and the US-China rivalry, as we move into the next decade or so. They still are.

But the threat of the pandemic has already receded somewhat. The world is getting back to some kind of new normal. The internal dynamics of economic survival for Singaporeans will continue to occupy everyone’s mind, as illustrated by the speeches in the just-concluded budget debate.

The US-China competition presents another headache to Singapore, as we have so much dealings with both countries. China is Singapore’s top trading partner, with the US fourth. There are extensive investments either way with both powers.

So far, however, for all the twists and turns, posturings and disruptions, there has always been enough restraint shown by either side and espoused respect for a world order – whether in trade or international conventions. There are some OB markers you do not want to cross – unless you have not truly believed in the current system and are just biding your time to change them.

Something almost evil is unfolding before our eyes. And it is scary.

Putin’s unprovoked and outrageous invasion of Ukraine whose independence it guaranteed in exchange for Kyiv giving up its nuclear weapons located there when it was part of the Soviet Union is a danger to all small countries like Singapore. I applaud Parliament Leader of the House Indranee Rajah when she said in her budget debate roundup:

“Just as we were about to debate the budget, the world changed with the situation in Ukraine, reminding us that independence, the right to self-determination and territorial sovereignty are precious and cannot be taken for granted. And why small countries like Singapore must continue to advocate and uphold a world order that is rules-based and principled.”

So in that sense, how do Singaporeans now view China which has so far refused to condemn Russia for its attempt to re-annex Ukraine or neutralise its independence?

China has had friendly relations with Ukraine which must have expected it to at least restrain the Russians but it did not, apart from making some public statements about restraint. Self-interest and an older friendship with the old Soviet Union seemed to have prevailed for Beijing.

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has begun to draw complicating new lines of divisions in the world – unless there is a coup in Moscow with saner Russian leaders ousting Putin which may not be entirely ruled out, if the Ukrainian invasion starts to bleed the Russians.

In trade and politics, we may see a less inter-linked world. China will learn from the sanctions that the West has imposed on the Russians and seek to impose its own financial system on others and be less reliant on the West. It may no longer try to pretend that it respects rules (otherwise how does it explain its public attitude towards the Russian invasion?). And that is going to make life complicating for Singapore which is so much part of a rules-based world system from which we have prospered.

Finally, the most important question is this: Does any of the current 4G leaders fit the bill of a leader who will steer Singapore through yet another defining moment in history?


Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company. Follow us on Social Media

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