Explainer: Why Indonesia’s Leader is Visiting Kyiv, Moscow

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations, is visiting Ukraine and Russia for meetings with the leaders of the two warring nations after attending the Group of Seven summit in Germany.

Widodo has sought to maintain a neutral position since the start of the war, and he hopes his efforts will lead to a cease-fire and eventual direct talks between the two leaders.

What does Widodo hope to achieve?

Widodo said he wants to encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to start a dialogue on ending the war, which has caused global food shortages and surges in commodity prices.

“My mission is to build peace, because the war must be stopped and (its effects) on the food supply chain must be lifted,” Widodo said, “I will invite President Putin to open a dialogue and, as soon as possible, to carry out a cease-fire and stop the war.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has choked global markets and contributed to higher prices of meat, dairy products, cereals, sugar and vegetable oils.

“These visits are not only important for Indonesians but also for other developing countries in order to prevent the people of developing and low-income countries from falling into extreme poverty and hunger,” Widodo said.

Why does the war in Ukraine matter to Widodo?

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said it’s important to achieve a resumption of grain exports from Ukraine and food and fertilizer exports from Russia to end shortages and reduce prices.

Rising costs of cooking oil prompted the Indonesian government to temporarily ban exports of palm oil products amid a series of student protests against skyrocketing food prices. Indonesia resumed exports of crude palm oil a month later.

Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s largest exporters of palm oil, accounting for 85% of global production.

Why might Putin and Zelenskyy listen to Widodo?

As this year’s G-20 president, Indonesia has sought to remain neutral in dealing with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has been guarded in its comments.

Widodo has said he offered Indonesian support in peace efforts to both Putin and Zelenskyy, a move seen as an attempt to unite the G-20 forum divided by the ongoing conflict.

The United States and its allies in the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations — a subset of the G-20 — have sought to punish Putin in as many ways as possible, including by threatening a boycott of the G-20 summit to be held later this year in Bali unless Putin is removed from the forum.

Widodo has invited Zelenskyy to the summit along with Putin in hopes it will appease proponents of both Ukraine and Russia and limit any distraction from the forum’s other agenda items. Ukraine is not a member of the forum, but Russia is.

What are his chances of success?

Widodo will be the first Asian leader to visit the warring countries.

His efforts come weeks after Russia said it was looking over an Italian proposal to end the conflict in Ukraine. Talks between Russia and Ukraine to end the hostilities have essentially ground to a halt.

The Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers met for inconclusive talks in Turkey in March, followed by a meeting of the delegations in Istanbul, which also failed to bring about concrete results.

Gilang Kembara, an international politics researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, an Indonesian think tank, is pessimistic that Putin will listen to Widodo to find a peaceful solution to the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

“The chance for that is very slim,” said Kembara, “Indonesia does not have great experience as a peace broker outside the Southeast Asia region.”

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