Sat, 26 Apr 2003

Indonesia-Russia bilateral relations warm up

Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Indonesia and Russia seem to have found a new path in their bilateral relations, particularly with the recent signing of memorandums of understanding for closer cooperation in the military, technology and trade sectors.

The highlight of the cooperation was Indonesia's decision to purchase Sukhoi Su-27 and Su-30 jet fighters and Mi-35 helicopters from the former communist state.

Both countries have experienced bittersweet memories in bilateral relations in the past.

President Megawati Soekarnoputri said in Moscow early this week that Indonesia-Russia relations had had their ups and downs. She also called for a new beginning in diplomacy.

Observers Dewi Fortuna Anwar and Indria Samego showed support for the President's foreign policy, saying that it could reduce Indonesia's dependence on the U.S.

"That (improving relations with Russia) is good. It helps Indonesia to have an alternative in international relations," Dewi Fortuna told The Jakarta Post here on Tuesday.

Dewi of the Habibie Center added that Indonesia and Russia needed each other. Indonesia needed a supplier of military equipment, while Russia saw a potential market in Indonesia.

Indria of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), meanwhile, said that military cooperation with Russia could reduce Indonesia's dependence on the U.S.

At least, he added, improving cooperation with Russia would soften pressure from the U.S.

Both analysts were commenting on the signing of several memorandums of understanding, the ceremony for, which was witnessed by Indonesian President Megawati Soekarnoputri and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Dewi emphasized that the improvement in relations had nothing to do with the ideology of the two countries in the past.

Indonesia enjoyed good relations with the Soviet Union (as it was) under founding president Sukarno in the late 1950s and early 1960s, during which Indonesia enjoyed a supply of military hardware.

An abundant supply of military aircraft and vessels made Indonesia Asia's "super power" in the 1960s. However, that did not last long.

A lack of technology, maintenance and servicing contributed to the damage of high-technology equipment.

Besides, the political aspect was also a major cause in weakening relations with Russia.

Following the abortive coup attributed to the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965, Indonesia distanced itself from the Soviet Union.

Gen. Soeharto, Sukarno's successor, perceived Moscow as a potential threat to Indonesia. Soeharto banned Russian literature, claiming that it incorporated communist teaching, which was not in line with the state ideology, Pancasila.

Although Indonesia adopts a "free and active" foreign policy and is cofounder of the Non-Aligned Movement (GAM), its government has adopted different policies, according to the background of the president.

Sukarno visited Moscow in 1956 and 1964, while Soeharto made a visit in 1989. Megawati followed in their footsteps recently.

Premier Nikita Khrushchev visited Jakarta in February 1960 when Sukarno was the president. During Soeharto's era, relations with the Soviet Union cooled.

In October 1985, Deputy Prime Minister Yakov Ryabov led a delegation to Indonesia, marking the highest official visit to the country from the Soviet Union.

President of the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan and a Vice President of the Soviet Union Mirza Olim Ibragimov made an eight- day private visit to Indonesia as guest of Soeharto.

Ibragimov was the highest official from the Soviet Union to visit Indonesia during the Soeharto era.

With foreign policy now swinging toward Russia, it does not necessarily mean that Indonesia is ignoring the U.S. Indonesia can benefit from its relations with Russia and the U.S. to bring economic recovery.

Dewi Fortuna said that the U.S. should not react negatively at Megawati's move because Indonesia had been trying to seek revocation of the U.S. embargo on military equipment.

"We can't base Indonesia's future purely on U.S decisions," Dewi added.