Thursday, September 06, 2007

Putin visit to open new era for Russia-RI ties

World News - Thursday, September 06, 2007

Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Despite visits by several Indonesian presidents, from Sukarno to Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, no Russian -- or Soviet -- president has visited Indonesia for five decades.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin will soon make this record history when he visits the world's fourth most populous nation Thursday.

Putin's landmark Jakarta visit will prompt the strengthening of bilateral relations between Russia and Indonesia, analysts say.

The visit is also seen as underscoring the growing importance of Indonesia in Russia's quest to return to global prominence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. Present-day Russia is the heir to two-thirds of the Soviet Union's vast territory and resources.

"The visit opens a new era for Russian and Indonesian relations. With Russia almost out of its transition phase after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is essential that it seeks to foster an alliance with Indonesia if it wants to balance the U.S.," said Hariyadi Wirawan, an international relations expert at the University of Indonesia.
The last visit by any Russian leader to Indonesia was by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev when he met with Indonesia's first president Sukarno in Jakarta in the 1950s.

Russia and Indonesia are expected to sign weapons, mining and oil deals worth billions of dollars during this week's visit.

Putin, who will be accompanied by business leaders -- including the chairman of Lukoil, Vagit Alekperov, the head of the Trade and Industry Chamber, and billionaire investor Vladimir Yevtushenkov -- will meet with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Thursday during a one-day stopover on his way to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Sydney, Australia.

Presidential spokesman Dino Patti Djalal said that both leaders will discuss ways to improve investment and trade relations, which reached only US$680 million in 2006.

"This is very a small (amount) compared to our huge potential," he said.

Russia would extend a US$1 billion line of credit to Indonesia to buy Russian military hardware, said spokesman Dino Pati Djalal, who declined to provide further details.

Indonesian mining company Aneka Tambang will sign a US$3 billion deal with Russian aluminum giant United Company Rusal, while state-owned oil company Pertamina plans to sign a US$1 billion agreement with Russia's LukOil.

Hariyadi said closer relations with Russia could help Indonesia prove to the world, and in particular Muslim nations, that it was independent of U.S. foreign policy.

Hariyadi said Indonesia had long been seen as a loyal U.S. ally, a position harder to maintain with growing worldwide discontent with the U.S. over the invasion of Iraq and its handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He added that many have observed that Indonesia's military ties with U.S. have not helped the country gain military technology and independence.

"Russia can fill this gap and offer Indonesia similarly advanced products at a cheaper price (as well as) the transfer of technology," Hariyadi said.

Indonesia in the past heavily relied on the U.S. for military equipment. However, the U.S. slapped a military embargo on the country in 1992 after reports of human rights abuses in Indonesia's then province of East Timor.

The ban forced Indonesia to scrap much of its military equipment because of a lack of spare parts, many of which had to be searched for on the black market.

U.S. military restrictions were withdrawn earlier last year, but the Indonesian government is still seeking other suppliers to avoid the consequences of a possible future U.S. ban.

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