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Why Indonesian President Jokowi wants to be ‘communication bridge’ between Russia and Ukraine

Indonesia President Joko Widodo will be holding the G20 summit at ‘most difficult time’, when one of its members, Russia, is engaged in war & nations threaten to boycott the event.

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New Delhi: The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, became the first Asian leader last week to visit the war-hit Ukraine, followed by a trip to Russia to serve as a “communication bridge” between Kyiv and Moscow with Jakarta gearing up to hold the G20 Summit in November.

G20, or Group of Twenty, is a strategic multilateral forum comprising 19 countries and the European Union. This is the first time Indonesia is holding the presidency of G20.

For now, it seems like Indonesia — this year’s chair for G20’s rotating presidency — has been able to achieve some immediate gains for itself and for the Southeast Asian region by way of obtaining assurances from both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on averting an impending food crisis.

However, whether the Indonesian chief’s dramatic moves will help in actually ending the war remains highly doubtful.

In Moscow Thursday, Joko Widodo, popularly referred to as ‘Jokowi’, said Indonesia is “ready to bridge Russia-Ukraine communications” even as he managed to extract Russian “security guarantees” for Ukrainian food export routes.

Russia is a member of the G20 but Ukraine is not. As the chair of G20, Jokowi has invited Zelenskyy to the Leaders’ Summit, which will take place in Bali, where Putin is also expected to be present as a member country.

The US, Australia and Japan, among others, have all directly or indirectly threatened to boycott the summit if Putin is invited.

“I support the efforts of the United Nations to reintegrate Russian food and fertiliser commodities and Ukrainian food commodities into world supply chains, especially for the export route for Ukrainian food products, especially by sea. I really appreciate President Putin, who earlier said he would provide security guarantees for food and fertiliser supplies from both Ukraine and Russia. This is good news,” Jokowi said during a joint meeting at the Kremlin Palace with President Putin on June 30, according to a statement issued by the office of the Indonesian President.

During his meeting with Putin, Jokowi also said that the war has had an “impact not only on the world but also on world communities” since Russia and Ukraine are considered to be “world’s bread baskets”.

According to a statement issued by the Kremlin, Putin told Jokowi that it is the Ukrainian military that is causing trouble in food exports through their ports.

“We do not prevent the export of Ukrainian grain. The Ukrainian military authorities have mined the approaches to their ports, and no one is preventing them from clearing mines and withdrawing ships with grain from there. We guarantee security,” Putin said.

Apart from Indonesia and Russia other members of the G20 include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the UK, the US, and the EU. Plus, Spain is also invited as a permanent guest.

Prior to his meeting with Putin, Jokowi travelled 11 hours on a train from Poland to Kyiv to meet Zelenskyy.

In his meeting with President Zelenskyy on 30 June, Jokowi said, his visit is “a manifestation of Indonesia’s concern for the situation in Ukraine” and that he will deliver the Ukrainian President’s message to Putin in an effort to play the role of a peacemaker.

While in Ukraine, Jokowi also visited the bombed city of Irpin from where he gave a call for peace.

Also read: India should stand with the West against Russia

Countries threaten to boycott G20 Summit

The very fact that Jokowi went to both these countries right after attending the G7 Summit in Germany last month speaks volumes on the pressure the West is putting on Indonesia to uninvite Putin.

As a result, the Indonesian President “made a compromise” with the Group of Seven (G7) countries that while he cannot not invite Putin to the multilateral forum, he will also let Zelenskyy address the summit, said Gurjit Singh, former Indian envoy to Indonesia and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).

“Jokowi is basically trying to save the G20, which is taking place at the most difficult time of modern day history,” said Singh, author of The Harambee Factor: India-Africa Economic and Development Partnership. “So, he made a compromise to stave off the pressure from the West. It was decided that he will also invite Zelenskyy to the forum.”

“Even then one is not sure what the West will finally end up doing when the summit actually takes place,” he added.

While in Moscow, the Indonesian President urged all leaders to participate in the Summit.

“I invite all world leaders to come together to revive the spirit of multilateralism, the spirit of peace and the spirit of cooperation. Because only with this spirit can peace be achieved,” Jokowi said.

In an effort to highlight Ukraine’s importance and pacify the West, Jokowi said in a tweet Thursday, “Ukraine is so important to the world’s food supply chains. It is important for all parties to provide security guarantees for the smooth export of Ukrainian food, including through sea ports.”

According to Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow, Gateway House, a foreign policy think tank, the “driving motivation behind Jokowi’s move was the success of G20”, as the West continues to put pressure on Indonesia on not inviting Putin.

Bhatia, a veteran diplomat and author, also believes that the Indonesian elite also want Jokowi to play a larger role in the ASEAN region as his term comes to an end in 2024.

Stakes high for Indonesia

Indonesia is going to be the chair of the 10-member ASEAN in 2023, hence, the stakes for Jakarta are too high given that the Russian-Ukraine war has been continuing for over four months now with no resolution in sight.

Thus, according to experts, Jokowi was able to achieve a diplomatic victory in ensuring these events take place smoothly while the war continues to disrupt the global rules-based architecture by putting greater emphasis on the larger non-aligned stance.

“Indonesia also bolstered its non-alignment bona fides by negotiating with Russia just after participating in the G7 as a guest. Jokowi scored an apparent diplomatic victory on food and fertiliser safe passage from Ukraine, and that should be roundly applauded,” said Derek J. Grossman, senior defence analyst at the California-based think tank RAND Corporation. “Also, Indonesia is the first Asian country to step up and try to play peacemaker — another reason to applaud.”

“Jokowi’s actions are very much in line with ASEAN’s non-aligned position overall on Russia’s war in Ukraine,” he added.

ASEAN is made up of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Brunei.

In 2023, Indonesia is also likely to host the East Asia Summit (EAS), which is the Indo-Pacific’s premier forum for strategic dialogue. And the US has consistently emphasised on the ASEAN centrality in the Indo-Pacific strategic construct, making the EAS a key dialogue platform.

“The West cannot continue insisting on not inviting Russia to all these forums. This is harmful for countries like India too who have their foreign policy based on multipolarity. Forums like G20, East Asia Summit and others have to exist, else the world will only be divided into US-led and China-led forums,” said Singh, who was also India’ former envoy to Germany.

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Why blaming NATO for Ukraine war is Vladimir Putin’s biggest lie

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