Indonesian President Joko Widodo met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kyiv and Moscow on June 29 and 30 respectively, becoming the first Asian leader to visit the two countries since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Before his departure, Widodo told a news conference in Jakarta that the purpose of his visits was to carry out a “peacekeeping mission” by inviting both leaders to establish dialogue, adding that the conflict must end and the global food supply chain must reopen.
Indonesia has in the past few years bolstered its cooperation with ASEAN countries, the US, Japan, New Zealand and Australia under its “pragmatic diplomacy” policy and strategy of “multilateralism” in response to radical Muslim groups’ frequent activities within its borders, while trying to enhance its counterterrorism capabilities.
Indonesia has improved its cooperation with China and Russia at the same time. For example, Widodo visited China late last month at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).
In terms of the development of Indonesian-Russian relations, Jakarta and Moscow in 2020 celebrated the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. When Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov visited Indonesia in July last year to discuss bilateral cooperation and COVID-19 pandemic prevention, he said the two countries have reached a level of strategic partnership.
Due to the close relationship between Indonesia and Russia, the former has remained neutral on the sensitive issue of the latter’s invasion of Ukraine, and it has been cautious when speaking about the Russia-Ukraine war.
With a population of more than 270 million people, Indonesia is the fourth-most populous country and has the largest Muslim population in the world. It is not only the founding country of the 1955 Bandung Conference, known as the Asian-African Conference, but also a key member in major regional and international organizations, such as the Non-aligned Movement, Group of 77, G20, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and ASEAN. So, it has a certain degree of influence in regional security, as well as international issues.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has strained and disrupted global supply chains, leading to a global food and energy crisis. This is affecting many developing and low-income countries, and shrinking the supply of wheat, corn and flour in Indonesia.
Widodo, who holds the rotating presidency of G20 this year, is intent on promoting talks between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents to bring the crops from the world’s two biggest grain producers back on the global market. He has reportedly invited Zelenskiy and Putin to the G20 summit to be held in Bali, Indonesia, in November.
Through the historic opportunity of hosting the G20 summit, Indonesia hopes that its political efforts to mediate a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine can win international recognition.
However, the situation might be beyond Indonesia’s control at a time when the war is intensifying, with Zelenskiy and Putin equally convinced that their side will win the war.
Russia and Ukraine have been adopting a tough attitude toward the war, and are not willing to express goodwill for peace talks. Besides, the US and other Western countries are opposed to Putin’s participation in the G20 summit.
This complex situation is likely to add uncertainty to Indonesia’s strategic planning for a meeting between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents.
Yao Chung-yuan is a professor and former deputy director of the Ministry of National Defense’s strategic planning department.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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