Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Tuesday praised what he saw as his country’s growing stature on the global stage and reiterated calls for the Southeast Asian nation to be a “bridge of peace” between Russia and Ukraine.
The President donned a traditional outfit from Bangka Belitung islands off Sumatra, the colour of which his private secretary interpreted as a “green future,” and he spoke in the annual state of the nation speech a day before Indonesia’s 77th anniversary of independence.
“The international trust is increasing exponentially. Russia and Ukraine have welcomed Indonesia as the bridge for peace. We are being acknowledged by major countries amid rising geopolitical heat,” he said.
It’s all about noodles
But has President Widodo’s shuttle diplomacy really offered any de-escalation to the war in Ukraine?
Following his visit first to Kyiv and then Moscow at the turn of June and July as the first Asian leader to do so since the outbreak of the war, some Indonesian politicians and public figures have suggested that President Widodo should earn the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to facilitate dialogue between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Many have attempted similar feats but all seemed to have been doomed to failure. So far President Widodo’s efforts have brought limited results. A day after the Indonesian leader left Kyiv, Russian missiles attacked Serhiyivka in the southern Odesa region, killing 16. And just after he met Putin, Russia seized total control of Lysychansk, a city in eastern Ukraine.
What he managed to actually achieve was to extract an assurance from the Russian leader that he would permit much-needed shipments of food and fertilizer supplies to be exported from Ukraine. In the weeks that followed, a deal on rendering the Black Sea navigable again for ships carrying Ukrainian grain was brokered by the UN and Turkey. How much the Indonesian president’s efforts contributed to the success remains unclear.
Experts have argued that the real motivations of the Indonesian head of state, popularly referred to as President “Jokowi”, have been to secure the best conditions for Indonesia amid the global turbulence.
Firstly, Indonesia, being one of the largest importers of Ukrainian grain, wanted to ensure its own wheat supplies from Russia and Ukraine. A stable supply of wheat is indispensable for Ukraine to maintain the production of Indonesia’s food, especially the world-famous instant noodles.
Analysts believe that a rising noodle price curve could derail Jokowi’s domestic legitimacy.
Kudos and repute
Secondly, Indonesia wanted to jump into the spotlight to prove itself as the chair of the Group of 20 (G20).
In fact, President Jokowi invited Putin and Zelenskyy to attend the G20 Leaders Summit in Bali this November, trying to present Indonesia as a space capable of accommodating the concerns of the West while still maintaining good relations with Russia.
Putin and Zelenskyy’s visit, if it comes to it, would translate into a major gain for Jokowi’s mediatory lustre.
However, his reconciliatory policy came under fire from Ukraine’s ambassador to Jakarta Vasyl Hamianin on August 5, when he criticised the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry for taking part in the meeting between Russia and Southeast Asia’s regional grouping ASEAN which took place in Phnom Penh a day earlier. Shortly after the meeting, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi released a statement describing Russia as a long-time partner of ASEAN and expressing Indonesia’s hope that the partnership between the regional bloc and Russia “will bring peace and prosperity in accordance with the UN Charter, the ASEAN Charter, and the principles of international law”.
To recall, Indonesia was among the first countries that promptly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.
Thirdly, the visits serve President Jokowi and his administration as a domestic audience approval magnet. The Indonesian leader was showered with praise from the country’s numerous media outlets, saying he had made a courageous decision in attempting to promote peace.
Soon any critical scrutiny of President Jokowi’s efforts in Ukraine and Russia was labelled as “unpatriotic” by many in Indonesian social media.
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