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Drawing Lessons From Malaysia's Response to Russo-Ukrainian War

Monday, 7 March 2022


When a war emerges, it is significant for us to learn it regardless of whether we are affected or not. In the case of the Russian-Ukraine War, Malaysia should not take this war lightly as it has or will be impacting us greatly for both, the short-term and long-term.

The war itself is not a new occurrence. Malaysia has been playing a substantive role even from our membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) back in 2015. With the Ukraine and Crimea aggression taking place and the MH17 incident, Malaysia has deplored such attacks which are inconsistent with international law as it imposes great violation of human rights. We can see how Malaysia has been a powerhouse to hold Russia accountable by demanding investigation over the MH17 incident through a resolution in UNSC which unfortunately has been vetoed by Russia.

Fast forward to 2022, this crisis has evolved from solely Crimea to Russia’s “expansion” to Ukraine with the help of Belarus. To express that Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been failing in responding to the past weeks’ aggressions taking place in Ukraine is rather debatable. The ministry had initially sent a notice for Malaysians in Ukraine to contact the embassy dated back on 14 February. However, the war escalated and the rescue mission was then conducted on February 25. On the other hand, diplomatic efforts have been deployed with Malaysia calling out the failure of UNSC to address the situation and voting for the resolution in the United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Human Rights Council.

With such a summary of chronology of events regarding Malaysia’s response, the questions now lies — whether such responses are adequately enough given our position and conditionings and what could we learn from all of this?

Firstly, Malaysia could have reinforced their identity and values accordingly to respond to the war. From the perspective of foreign policy, Malaysia has been playing the neutral card when it comes to aggression but being neutral does not constitute being silent. In the past, Malaysia has been championing the rights of Bosnians during the Bosnian war in the 1990s which does tactically play the neutral card while upholding human rights. However, in the case of Ukraine, many experts are of the view that Malaysia could have responded better by addressing the need to condemn such actions made by Russia from the gecko, rather than awaiting diplomatic negotiations in the United Nations.

Failure of responding with a proper stance might have cost Malaysia’s security at this instance. With growing concerns of Malaysia’s lack of response, this has ‘enabled’ the situation to be replicated in our homeland. This matter can be seen with China’s growing exertion of claiming parts of the South China Sea and the Sulu Sultanate claiming Sabah. To acknowledge our identity and values, a lesson we can denote is to not only be consistent with what is laid in our foreign policy framework but also to address the concern of homeland security.

Aside from diplomatic talks, another lesson that we can denote is ensuring the security of Malaysian nationals is the top priority in a war. Although there were attempts in issuing press statements to uphold the safety of Malaysians in Ukraine, the wordings could have demonstrated a clear and thorough message to ensure the Embassy of Malaysia at Kyiv, Ukraine is able to coordinate their contingency plan effectively. It is rather unfortunate that the embassy has to deploy the last resort i.e. convoy with the lack of proper security shielding them. Should we have made the rescue mission earlier, the risk will be very minimal and could have been better coordinated.

Malaysian Youth Diplomacy and other 67 youth organisations and individuals have voiced our concern before over such a response by also demanding that Malaysians in a nearby country be evacuated with a proper contingency plan. Malaysians who are currently within Russia are also in danger of losing their quality of life which we have witnessed significantly impacts them through the many riots in Russia. Therefore, Malaysia should react swiftly before it is too late.

In the age where misinformation is easily made, another lesson we could learn is that government agencies should have responded faster to negate any assumptions or drawbacks which may backfire on the government rather than helping them. Quoting the allegations from news sources stating their disappointment over the lack of response made by the government, this matter itself could have been avoided should Wisma Putra give frequent updates rather than waiting to the very end. Updates do not necessarily mean it has to be detailed but informative enough for media or journalists to not speculate the situation in the bad limelight. In this instance, such updates could be informed directly to the civilians in Ukraine and media briefings could be given to media outlets from time to time when reporting the issue at hand.

All in all, Malaysia has seen its better days in the realm of diplomacy. To label the response made by the current government towards the Russian-Ukraine War as a total flop is too exaggerating. There are multiple attempts made by the staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to expedite a better response on the issue itself, which is commendable. One of them would be the great efforts demonstrated by the diplomats and representatives from Malaysia to the United Nations during the special session of the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Human Rights Council. In addition, I would extend my gratitude to the ambassadors and diplomats who have worked hard to resolve the crisis from our end, especially in regards to the rescue mission at Kyiv.

As pointed out by analysts and even our former foreign minister, concerns raised by them are very valid and should have been put into account when decision-making is made. By drawing out these three lessons, Malaysian youths are hopeful for a better address to be made by the Malaysian government in the subsequent days and in cases where any war impacts our nationals.

This article first appeared in Malay Mail at 7 March 2022.

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