The Jakarta Post
Amid the diminishing might and global influence of the United States, especially under President Donald Trump, and in the middle of tension in the South China Sea and the COVID-19 pandemic, Indonesia should intensify bilateral and multilateral relations with major powers. These include Russia, whose prominence in military and technology has shaped it as a key player in the international political landscape.
Indonesia is aware of the geopolitical shift and the need to boost ties with Russia, which is why Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto has visited Moscow twice within a span of five months.
The relationship between the two countries has continued to flourish, especially in the economic, political, defense and cultural fields, at least in the last two decades. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has twice held talks with President Vladimir Putin since 2016, and the two leaders’ phone calls on COVID-19 efforts in April showcased the strategic rapport the two nations sought to build. Before the pandemic, Jokowi had planned to attend the St. Petersburg Forum in June as the main guest.
At their meeting in Moscow in January, Prabowo and his counterpart Sergey Shoygu expressed their commitment to finalizing a strategic partnership agreement between two countries this year. If a final deal is reached, Russia will join other major countries that have inked wide-ranging trade treaties with Indonesia. On Sunday, the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement came into effect.
Prabowo also particularly wanted to check up on the progress of Indonesia’s bid to buy 11 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets. The US$1.14 billion purchase deal was signed in 2018, but there have been reports of pressure mounting on Indonesia to drop the plan.
Prabowo flew back to Moscow to attend the 75th anniversary of Victory Day, which had been moved to June 24 from its original date in May because of COVID-19 concerns. Prabowo’s mission was to observe Russia’s latest military technology, which was on display at a military parade marking the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Indonesia has been trying to reduce its dependence on American arms in its quest for military modernization. Washington once instated a military embargo on Jakarta on accusations of gross human rights violations in East Timor in 1999.
During the administration of former president Megawati Soekarnoputri Indonesia-Russia defense cooperation reached a new high with Jakarta’s purchase of Sukhoi jets. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono maintained similar cooperation.
In addition to the favorable terms and conditions Russia has offered, such as flexible payment, transfers of technology and the absence of political considerations, Jakarta’s choice of Moscow is manifestation of the free and active foreign policy Indonesia has exercised throughout its 75 years of existence.
Russia is strategic for Indonesia not only from the military point of view. The Eurasian giant offers lucrative opportunities for business, investment and economic relations that Indonesia should seize for the sake of its recovery. As Indonesian Ambassador to Russia Wahid Supriyadi has said, Russia is a potential market for Indonesian products, such as palm oil, coffee and textile products.
A more mature relationship will benefit Indonesia and its partners. Prabowo has played his role; other ministers can do their parts.