Singapore’s government will impose unilateral sanctions against Russia, a move which a former diplomat said was the first time in decades that the city-state was censuring a foreign nation without United Nations Security Council backing.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Singapore plans to impose export controls on items that can be used as weapons in Ukraine “to inflict harm or to subjugate the Ukrainians.” Singapore will also block certain Russian banks and financial transactions connected to the country. The measures are being worked out and will be announced shortly, he told parliament on Monday.

Singapore is the only country in Southeast Asia so far that has imposed sanctions against Russia in the absence of binding United Nations Security Council approval. It is a departure from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations which has refrained from condemning Russian attacks on Ukraine over the weekend. 

“It is all too easy for a small country to be caught up in the geopolitical games of big powers,” Balakrishnan said. “Small countries must avoid becoming sacrificial pawns, vassal states or ‘cat’s paws’ to be used by one side against the other.”

Bilahari Kausikan, Singapore’s former permanent secretary for foreign affairs, said this was an “almost unprecedented move” by the country. “The only other time to my knowledge when we have imposed unilateral sanctions was after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia (then Kampuchea) in 1978, 44 years ago,” he said in a Facebook post. 

Western nations have agreed to impose new penalties on Russia after the initial ones failed to persuade President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his forces from Ukraine. Under the fresh sanctions, some Russian lenders will be excluded from the SWIFT bank messaging system, used for trillions of dollars worth of transactions around the world. The penalties will also target the central bank’s foreign reserves.

Balakrishnan said Singapore must expect the measures to come at some cost to businesses. The country’s flag carrier has already suspended return services between Singapore and Moscow due to operational reasons. Other Singapore companies like Olam International Ltd, which sources Russian commodities, said food supplies tend to be exempt from sanctions.