Why Indonesia Is Still Inviting Russia To The Upcoming G20 Summit Despite The Invasion Of Ukraine

Indonesia is set to host the G20 in Bali in November this year, and the Russian embassy has signalled President Vladimir Putin plans to attend.

Many Group of 20 member countries — made up of the world’s major economies — have asked Indonesia not to invite Mr Putin.

In fact, US President Joe Biden said Russia should be expelled from the G20, but if Indonesia didn’t agree, then Ukraine should also be invited to the summit — an option Indonesia is considering.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also urged Indonesia to reject Mr Putin’s presence there, saying it would be “a step too far”.

Russia has been excluded from international bodies before — it was booted from the G8, now the G7, over its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Australia threatened to remove it from the G20 that year in response to the downing of MH17.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott defended a decision not to ban Russia from the G20 in Brisbane, saying there wasn’t consensus and “it’s not Australia’s right to say yes or no to individual members of the G20”.(G20 Australia/Andrew Taylor )Despite the pressure from world leaders and the ongoing Russian attack on Ukraine, Indonesia has said it wants to remain impartial and Mr Putin is still welcome to attend.

Indonesia, which holds the presidency of the G20 this year, has a “duty” to “invite all members”, said Dian Triansyah Djani from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As evidence of alleged war crimes mounts in Ukraine, what are the factors behind Indonesia’s open invitation?

What is Indonesia’s stance in the conflict?
When Russia first launched its attack on Ukraine, President Joko Widodo tweeted that the war should be stopped, without mentioning Russia or the context of the conflict.

Mr Widodo’s response has drawn protests from many circles in Indonesia, who were disappointed that the leader of the world’s fourth most populous country did not appear to have a clear stance on the invasion.

“When the whole world, even Russian citizens themselves, condemn the invasion of Ukraine, it is very surprising that the Indonesian government, who is said to love peace, has not even issued a firm statement,” said Rizki Natakusumah, an opposition MP.

“Not to mention that Indonesia now has a golden momentum as president of the G20 with the eyes of the world upon us. Don’t let this precious moment be missed because the president is unable to respond toglobal issues.”

In the days after the invasion, the Norwegian UN Mission in New York on Twitter uploaded a list of 80 countries that co-sponsored a draft resolution to end Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Indonesia wasn’t on the list.

Indonesia did ultimately condemn the invasionin a later resolution at the UN, while countries like China and India abstained. However, Indonesia abstained in a vote to kick Russia off the UN Human Rights Council.

The opportunity to buy cheap oil may be one factor driving Indonesia’s ambivalence over Ukraine.

Military purchases are another — Russia has sold Indonesia more than $2.5 billion in weapons over the past 30 years, and is the largest supplier of arms in South-East Asia.

While many countries have imposed sanctions, Indonesian state energy firm Pertamina is considering buying crude oil from Russia.

Last week at a parliamentary hearing, its chief executive officer Nicke Widyawati said amid current geopolitical tensions, Pertamina saw “an opportunity to buy from Russia at a good price”.

“Politically, there’s no problem as long as the company we are dealing with was not sanctioned. We have also discussed the payment arrangement, which may go through India,” Ms Widyawati said.

Leaving the door open for constructive dialogue
Muhadi Sugiyono, an international relations expert at Gadjah Mada University, said Indonesia’s response was not about outright condemnation, in the hopes that would lead to a constructive dialogue with Russia to de-escalate the situation.

“That’s [what] our ‘independent and active’ foreign policy looks like,” Mr Sugiyono said, referring to a principle that allowed Indonesia to walk a fine line between global superpowerswhile building national unity within the country.

“It doesn’t matter if we are not part of the majority, because the important thing is that we stick to the principles.

“When we are not in a black-and-white position, spaces for peace can be built.”

Indonesia says it is friends with both Russia and Ukraine, and former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko visited in 2016.(Supplied: AP Photo/ Tatan Syuflana)However, Evan Laksmana, a senior research fellow with the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at National University of Singapore, said Indonesia should take “a stronger position in condemning the invasion and explicitly mentioning Russia”.

Mr Laksmana said being “independent and active” also involved defending their interests including the principles of international law — but that hadn’t stopped them from inviting Mr Putin.

When asked about accusations of war crimes allegedly committed by Russian troops in towns near Kyiv, Indonesia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson said: “It’s an accusation and therefore it needs to be verified by an independent investigation. This is the process that we will support.”

Past ties to Russia
Historian Triyana Bonnie Triyana said a historical affinity between Indonesia and the former Soviet Union, stretching back to the 1950s, has influenced Indonesia’s position in the Ukraine crisis now.

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev and former Indonesian president Sukarno share a cigarette in a banquet in Bali in 1960.(Supplied: Life/John Dominis)Apart from supporting Indonesia’s candidacy as a member of the United Nations, Indonesia also received a soft loan from the Soviet Union of $US12.5 million to build a sports arena and stadium, to help fulfil then-president Sukarno’s ambition of hosting the 1962 Asian Games.

Indonesia and the Soviet Union were also involved in military and arms deals — Indonesia purchased helicopters, submarines, missiles, boats and planes from the Soviet Union worth $US450 million in 1961.

And in the same year, Soviet Armed Forces assisted Indonesia in Operation Trikora to recapture the Dutch East Indies.

The sports complex is one of Jakarta’s landmarks and was built with the aid of the Soviet Union.(Supplied: ANTARA FOTO/Wahyu Putro A)However, he added Indonesia also has historical closeness with Ukraine.

Ukraine, when it was still the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, was the first country to propose that Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands be discussed at the UN Security Council.

“Thanks to [Ukraine delegation head Dmitry] Mauilsky’s proposal, the Indonesia-Dutch dispute later became a full-fledged international dispute,” Mr Triyana said.

The Indonesian government itself has emphasised that regarding the crisis in Ukraine, Indonesia continues to maintain good relations with both Russia and Ukraine.

“The two countries are friends of Indonesia,” Mr Hanafi said.

Pro-Russian and anti-Western sentiment
While there is support for Ukraine among the country’s 270 million people, many Indonesians have expressed sympathy and support for Russia online.

Analysts suggest it’s partly due todis- or misinformation, but also about a perception of US hypocrisy.

The Sukhoi fighter jet owned by the Indonesian air force is a form of military cooperation between Indonesia and Russia.(Supplied: ANTARA/Darwin Fatir)Earlier this week, the Lowy Institute released the results of a survey — conducted prior to Russia’s invasion — about how Indonesians see the world.

One of the findings was that most Indonesians support democracy, but they also respect authoritarian leaders overseas.

Four in 10 have confidence in Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (40 per cent), more than those who have confidence in Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison (38 per cent).

“From this poll there are several things that we cannot infer, but I think it is relevant that Indonesians have a tendency to side with strongmen, such as Prabowo, Duterte, or Putin,” said Mr Laksmana, who was involved in the research.

“Another thing that is relevant but we can’t measure in the survey is anti-Western sentiment.

“So it’s not about people who love Putin or Indonesians who don’t know there was an invasion, but because Putin is seen as anti-NATO and anti-Western so [he] must be supported, because we also don’t trust Western countries after what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Mr Triyana echoed the idea that anti-Western sentiment could be factor in Indonesian support for Russia.

At the same time, he added there was some lingering anti-Russia sentiment since the 1965 coup and mass killings of communist sympathisers in Indonesia, carried out by the US-backed army.

“The Indonesian Communist Party was accused of being the mastermind behind the coup which put Russia, as a communist country, under the same stigma,” he said.

“We know that [since then] most Indonesians do not like communism … but the communist label can be instantly forgotten because Russia is seen as an enemy of the US. So this is not about Ukraine, but rather about NATO and the Western countries that Russia is fighting against.”

Indonesia received chairmanship or presidency of the G20 Summit from Italy last year.(Supplied: ANTARA/Presidential Media Press Bureau)Indonesia should have a clear strategy behind the invitation
Mr Laksmana regretted that from the start, Indonesia did not come out strongly against the invasion.

According to him, the government is now on the back foot in making efforts to justify Indonesia’s inability to come up with a proper response to the other G20 members.

He said whether inviting Mr Putin was the right or wrong decision in part depended on Indonesia’s strategy, which was unclear.

“Say OK, we invite him. But then do what? Was he invited and then scolded, was he invited then a special forum was created, was he invited to be kicked out? This is what we don’t know.”

“As chair, Indonesia certainly doesn’t want G20 to become G19. That doesn’t look good,” he said.

“But on the other hand, if Indonesia does not do or say something in principle, of course what will happen may not only be G19 but G10, if half of the Western countries decide not to come.”