Jokowi to Visit Ukraine, Russia to Discuss Food Crisis

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(Bloomberg) -- Indonesian President Joko Widodo will head to Kyiv and Moscow to push for peace and discuss the global food crisis partly caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Jokowi, as the president is popularly known, will be the first Asian leader to visit the countries since the war began, said Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. The visits will take place after he attends the Group of Seven meeting in Germany on June 26-28.

“President Jokowi is choosing to try to contribute, instead of choosing to be quiet,” Marsudi said in a press briefing on Wednesday. He plans to discuss the global food crisis and peace efforts during the visits, she added.

Indonesia, as this year’s host of Group of 20, is set to be the stage for a potential meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy after Jokowi invited both of them to attend the November summit in Bali.

Non-Aligned Movement

In Indonesia, rising food prices have dented Jokowi’s popularity, prompting him to replace the trade and agrarian ministers after a series of policy u-turns failed to improve a shortage in cooking oil and other foodstuffs.

Southeast Asian nations have moved to curb rising food costs partly driven by the war in Ukraine with export bans and subsidies. Malaysia has partly banned exports of chicken, while Indonesia temporarily halted shipments of edible oil in April and May. Singapore announced a S$1.5 billion ($1.1 billion) package this week to shield lower-income households from surging costs of living.

Jokowi’s move to engage with both Putin and Zelenskiy is notable given Indonesia has refrained from directly criticizing Russia and turned down Ukraine’s call for weapons aid. Indonesia is a founding member of the non-aligned movement, a group of states not formally allied with any major bloc during the Cold War.

The trip “has the potential for Indonesia to return to what has been its traditional position that is a bit more active, rather than what had been until now a more passive, neutral, not taking sides,” said Marty Natalegawa, who was Indonesia’s foreign minister from 2009 to 2014. “There is a potential for Indonesia to return to its traditional orientation of trying to build bridges and trying to be part of the solution.”

(Updates with broader context throughout.)

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