Indonesia: Jokowi to question defense minister about Ukraine proposal

Tria Dianti
Indonesia: Jokowi to question defense minister about Ukraine proposal Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto delivers an address at the 20th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, June 3, 2023.
Caroline China/Reuters

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo distanced himself on Tuesday from a much-criticized proposal by his defense minister to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Jokowi suggested that Prabowo Subianto’s plan, which the defense chief delivered during the Shangri-La Dialogue international security forum in Singapore on Saturday, was Prabowo’s personal view.

“That was from Mr. Prabowo himself,” Jokowi told reporters after opening a national meeting of his political party, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle.

During the international security forum in Singapore, Prabowo proposed that Russia and Ukraine should pull back 15 km (9.3 miles) from each other’s forward positions to establish a demilitarized zone in what he described as “disputed” areas, and this was to be monitored by a United Nations peacekeeping force.

A U.N.-backed referendum should also be held “to ascertain objectively the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants of the various disputed areas,” Prabowo said in a speech as he represented Indonesia, the 2023 ASEAN bloc chairman, on the world stage in Singapore.

Jokowi said he would summon Prabowo to hear his explanation directly.

“But I have not met Mr. Prabowo yet. Maybe today or tomorrow. He will be invited,” Jokowi said.

Prabowo’s speech has been criticized in Indonesia and elsewhere as some observers questioned whether he had a sound grasp of all the issues at play in the Russia-Ukraine war, which started when Russian troops invaded the smaller neighbor in February 2022.

Zachary Abuza, a Washington-based analyst on Southeast Asia and a contributor to BenarNews, cast doubt on the effectiveness of Prabowo’s speech in Singapore.

“Prabowo’s plan was ill-conceived and a complete non-starter. It was probably made as he tried to burnish his international statesman credentials ahead of next February’s election,” Abuza told BenarNews. “But its naïveté undermined both that and Indonesia’s desire to play a greater role in international affairs.”

A former army general and Jokowi’s rival in the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections, Prabowo is one of Indonesia’s most influential politicians and a frontrunner in the 2024 presidential race.

Some observers speculated that Prabowo delivered a stump speech aimed at boosting his prospects in the election by appealing to compatriots who espoused a pro-Russia bias or anti-Western sentiment.

Indonesia has maintained good relations with both Russia and Ukraine and has sought in recent years to play a more active role in global affairs as a middle power, especially as a leader of the Non-Aligned Movement of nations not formally part of any major power bloc.

Jokowi visited Ukraine and Russia last year and offered to mediate between the warring countries.

Lawmaker questions proposal

Also on Tuesday, retired Maj. Gen. Tubagus Hasanuddin, a member of the House of Representatives’ defense and foreign affairs commission, questioned Prabowo’s proposal during a parliamentary hearing with Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

“The substance of the proposal is not in line with the usual and ethical ways to solve the problems of combat on the ground,” he said, according to CNBC Indonesia.

“It is not appropriate. Is the defense minister’s proposal a foreign policy decision that is under the responsibility of the foreign ministry,” Hasanuddin asked.

Retno suggested that Prabowo be asked directly about the issue.

“Indonesia always respects sovereignty and territorial integrity and this is reflected well when there is voting on issues related to respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty,” she responded, according to the report.

“Our call is always: Please, stop the war, and this was conveyed by President Joko Widodo when visiting Kyiv, Moscow and last month Mr. President met with President Zelenskyy in Hiroshima, Japan.

“For Shangri-La, please call Mr. Defense Minister,” she said.


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