A 2018 deal to sell Indonesia 11 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets is still on track, Russia’s ambassador to Jakarta said Wednesday, while insisting that U.S. sanctions were not preventing countries from buying Russian-made military equipment.
Indonesian officials have expressed concern that the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, an American law signed by President Donald Trump in August 2017, could potentially hinder the purchase of the warplanes from Russia – a deal with a price-tag of U.S. $1.14 billion – as Southeast Asia’s largest country looks to modernize its military.
“The plan has not been canceled as far as we know, and of course, we know that the contract has been signed and hopefully will be implemented,” Russian envoy Lyudmila Vorobieva told reporters during an online press conference.
She said Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto discussed the deal with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin during his visit to Moscow last month, when he attended Russia’s Victory Day celebrations. Subianto’s trip to the Russian capital was his second in five months in his role as Indonesian defense chief.
“I know that they discussed the continuation of the Sukhoi cooperation, and not only the procurement of weapons but defense cooperation between our two countries,” the ambassador said.
Vorobieva played down the possibility of U.S. sanctions complicating the military deal, saying “there was nothing new in that.”
The CAATSA law targets Russia, Iran and North Korea for sanctions, and stipulates that the United States can impose sanctions on governments or entities that purchase weapons or military hardware and parts from Russia.
“We know that the U.S. is threatening to impose sanctions over every country that is buying Russian defense equipment, but actually it doesn’t prevent our partners and friends from purchasing equipment from Russia, which is very cost efficient and of good quality,” she said.
“Hopefully, this [Sukhoi] contract, not only this but other plans also, will go through,” Vorobieva added.
In Jakarta, officials with the Ministry of Defense could not be reached immediately for comment on Wednesday.
Mohamad Wahid Supriyadi, Indonesia’s ambassador to Russia, said Prabowo touched on the Sukhoi deal during his meeting with Fomin late last month, but they did not go into specifics.
During their meeting in Moscow, Prabowo and Fomin discussed defense industry cooperation and joint military exercises, the defense ministry said in a statement posted on its website, but without elaborating.
In March, Deputy Defense Minister Sakti Wahyu Trenggono told BenarNews that the Indonesian government was considering buying F-35 fighter jets from the United States instead, citing unspecified obstacles in going ahead with the Russian deal.
Under the agreement struck with Moscow, Indonesia agreed to pay for the purchase through a barter agreement in which Jakarta would exchange a $570 million package of Indonesian commodities including crude palm oil, rubber and coffee.
However, according to a report published by the news website Defense World in mid-March, the two governments were still negotiating the barter side of the deal, and the issue had been complicated because of the fluctuating prices of some of the commodities.
US sale in the works
The Russian ambassador’s remarks came after the U.S. State Department announced on Monday that it had approved a possible sale of eight MV-22 Osprey aircraft and related equipment to Indonesia worth $2 billion.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of an important regional partner that is a force for political stability, and economic progress in the Asia-Pacific region,” the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.
“It is vital to U.S. national interest to assist Indonesia in developing and maintaining a strong and effective self-defense capability,” it said.
The agency said that the proposed sale could also improve Indonesia’s humanitarian and disaster relief capabilities.
Prabowo, a former army officer who was twice defeated by Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in presidential elections in 2014 and 2019, first visited Russia in January as part of a “defense diplomacy” tour that has taken him to several other countries.
He held talks then with Russian counterpart Sergey Shoygu and met with officials from the federal military-technical cooperation service, defense export agency Rosoboronexport, and weapons maker Kalashnikov Group.
Jokowi has said that he wants Indonesia’s military to have the most modern and sophisticated weaponry.
While Indonesia seeks to diversify its weapons procurement sources, officials still consider Washington as Jakarta’s leading source of defense hardware, analysts say.
Indonesia bought 16 Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 jets from Russia between 2003 and 2012. The Indonesian air force also has 33 US-made F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Meanwhile last December, Indonesia and South Korea agreed to move ahead with a joint project to develop a next-generation fighter jet called the KAI KF-X, in which Jakarta would shoulder 20 percent of the $7.36 billion development cost.