Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto speaks at a plenary session of the 20th IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 3, 2023. (Reuters/Caroline Chia)
The Jakarta Post
Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto’s four-point proposal to end the war in Ukraine has sparked anger in Ukraine and the international community as it runs counter to the United Nations’ position, to which Indonesia officially subscribes, that Moscow must withdraw its military forces unconditionally.
The Foreign Ministry has not responded to the speech Prabowo delivered during the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday, perhaps to avoid an open clash with the defense minister, which would be perceived as a crack within the Cabinet. But speaking to journalists on Tuesday, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said he would soon summon Prabowo to clarify his remarks.
Will Prabowo’s statement be damaging for Indonesia internationally? Likely not, because the world knows Indonesia has consistently opposed invasions of sovereign states. But it may well deal Prabowo a big personal blow, as the international community now has a clearer glimpse of one of Indonesia’s leading presidential aspirants.
The defense minister’s proposal to end the Ukraine war is as follows: secure a cease-fire, have both sides withdraw 15 kilometers from their forward positions to establish a demilitarized buffer zone, have United Nations peacekeeping forces monitor the truce and have the UN lead a referendum on which country the disputed territories should belong to.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov immediately rejected the idea.
“It sounds like a Russian plan, not an Indonesian plan,” he said at a separate panel at the conference, as quoted by AFP. “We don’t need this mediator coming to us [with] this strange plan.”
The Shangri-La Dialogue, one of Asia’s most prestigious annual defense summits, was held from June 2 to 4 this year. Speakers at the event include top officials, generals and scholars from Asia-Pacific nations.
While Prabowo’s proposal will not change the view of Indonesia, which has supported UN resolutions condemning the invasion of Ukraine, his statement has attracted international attention because he will seek the presidency in 2024, his third attempt to win the position.
His speech provides a hint of his foreign policy aspirations. He envisions himself as a strong, hands-on manager of diplomacy, defense and military affairs. And in Singapore, Prabowo appeared to portray himself as the leader-to-be of a powerful Indonesia – politically, economically and militarily.
President Jokowi traveled to Moscow and Kyiv last year to invite President Vladimir Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky to attend the Group of 20 Summit in Bali. Putin skipped the summit while Zelenskyy addressed the forum by video. Indonesia condemned the invasion but refused to participate economically in the boycott of Russia.
While Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida acted as the keynote speaker at the Shangri-La Dialogue last year, Australian PM Anthony Albanese took the position this year. ”
For two decades, this highly respected forum has brought together experts in both defense and diplomacy, long-standing recognition that building peace, security and stability depend on both strategic capability and diplomatic capacity reinforcing each other,” the Australian leader said at the gathering.
Prabowo, South Korean National Defense Minister, Lee Jong-sup and European Commission Vice President Josep Borrel Fonteles appeared at the third session.
During the Q&A session, Prabowo was bombarded with questions about his Ukraine plan. His official presentation made it clear that he did not speak as an official representative of Indonesia for formal negotiations.
“Indonesia’s position is obvious. In the United Nations, we voted against the Russian invasion,” Prabowo said.
Perhaps Prabowo could have consulted the Foreign Ministry had he known the dialogue would address the Ukraine war, however noble his intentions were in offering his peace plan. Indonesia’s position on the matter remains unchanged, and the world knows it well.
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