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Jokowi's Ukraine and Russia visit is not just image politics

Channel News Asia - July 6, 2022

Clara Ferreira Marques, Singapore – Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited Kyiv and Moscow last week, offering to be a diplomatic bridge between the two. The first Asian leader to make the trip to both capitals since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he made a few headlines, but no real progress.

Critics saw the journey as image politics. And yet, Widodo's not wrong to see a role for states outside the wealthy world in helping to resolve a crisis that has punished emerging markets, particularly those that are also importers of food, fertiliser and fuel, like Indonesia.

Southeast Asia's most populous country is well placed to act. It has historic political and military ties to Russia and economic connections with Ukraine; it also holds this year's presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20) and next year's chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It has a strong diplomatic presence to back any initiative.

Even small-scale success, however, requires ambition and a concerted push for more than empty Kremlin promises.

Threat to food security

Jokowi, as the Indonesian leader is known, had more than one concern on his travels: Most obviously, the threat to food security – a longstanding headache for Jakarta that's only worsened since Russia's troops began streaming over the border into one of the world's largest grain exporters, bombing silos and farmland, disrupting logistics and driving up prices. Indonesia is a major buyer of Ukrainian wheat.

The G20 summit, scheduled for November in Bali, also needs to be salvaged. Unwilling to leave out Russia, Jokowi has invited Ukraine, but now needs to hope both will attend remotely to limit the risk of paralysing the entire gathering.

There were no miracles. In Ukraine, Jokowi visited the scarred city of Irpin, as other dignitaries have before him, called for peace and offered to carry a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In Moscow, the Indonesian leader said he had secured Russian guarantees for the security of food and fertiliser supplies, but offered no specifics – while the Kremlin simply turned the occasion into a demonstration of support, and proof that efforts to cut off Russia cannot succeed.

Indonesia must test limits of non-alignment

Can Indonesia achieve more? Certainly. But it must test the limits of its non-aligned position and acknowledge that unpicking a global food crisis and a war that violates the basic principles of Indonesia's own foreign policy – among them, respect for sovereignty and non-aggression – is impossible if Russia is allowed to pit the West against the rest.

Nor will platitudes on the need for talks suffice. It won't be enough to allow this peace-building effort to fade as Jakarta's recent attempts have, say in Afghanistan or Myanmar.

Indonesia exemplifies the balancing act many emerging nations have struggled with over the past few months. They are juggling discomfort with Moscow's disregard for basic norms and the reality of popular support for Russia – the result of Soviet-era ties, distrust of the West, admiration for a strongman leader and the widespread perception, fed by pro-Russian social media propaganda, that Putin is supportive of Islamic nations.

Indonesia voted in favor of a United Nations resolution condemning Russian aggression and Jokowi pointedly visited Kyiv first, but the nation has also sidestepped explicit censure of Russia and refused Ukrainian requests for weapons. That can prove an advantage.

Source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/indonesia-jokowi-ukraine-russia-diplomacy-peace-g20-279014