Widodo’s whirlwind tour . . .
Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo concluded a productive diplomatic mission to Russia and Ukraine last week, meeting separately with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The mission marked a significant change for Jokowi, who usually takes a back seat in international relations to his skilled foreign minister, Retno Marsudi. Jokowi’s main mission priority was to secure the reintegration of grain, food, and fertilizer products from the two warring countries into global supply chains. In a significant coup, Jokowi obtained a promise from Putin to re-open a sea route for Ukrainian wheat exports.
Domestic needs prompt change of tune . . .
Jokowi’s trip occurred amid heavy fighting between Russia and Ukraine. The effects of the prolonged crisis on Indonesia's economy have driven a change in its foreign policy towards the conflict, including a switch from discouraging discussion of the war at G20 events (Indonesia is hosting this year’s G20). Inflation in Indonesia has climbed to a five-year high of 4.35 per cent. And rising costs of food, fertilizer, and gasoline products have forced the government to adopt fiscal measures, such as supplying cash transfers to roughly 20 million households, putting further pressure on an economy still trying to recover from the ravages of the pandemic.
Keeping options open . . .
Jokowi has avoided picking sides in the current conflict in Europe, not criticizing Russia for invading Ukraine. His seeming ability to maintain cordial relations with both sides has turned him into an unexpected mediator. While his efforts have produced economic gains for Indonesia, including reopened grain supplies via the Black Sea and a Jakarta-Moscow collaboration on a new oil refinery in East Java, his openness to mediating between Zelensky and Putin has raised the possibility, albeit a remote one, of both Ukraine and Russia attending the November G20 summit in Bali.