A Traumatic Relationship: The United States and Indonesia–Russian Relationship

Published date01 June 2024
AuthorAgus Subagyo,Yohanes Sulaiman,Muhammad Fauzan Alamari,Mariane Delanova
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterResearch Articles
Research Article
A Traumatic
Relationship: The
United States and
Agus Subagyo1, Yohanes Sulaiman1,
Muhammad Fauzan Alamari1 and Mariane Delanova1
Indonesia’s insistence on refusing to directly condemn Russia’s unprovoked ag-
gression in Ukraine raised a lot of eyebrows. Some scholars attributed this to the
long history of Indonesia–Russia relationship, which is dated even before the for-
mal establishment of Soviet–Indonesia relations, when the Soviet Union brought
‘the Indonesian Question’ before the Security Council in 1946 and helped Indo-
nesia’s struggle for independence. That, however, is only part of the picture. In
fact, it is more important to see how the history of the relationship between the
United States and Indonesia influenced Indonesia’s strategic culture and creating
a feeling of trauma, the inability to trust the United States that influences Indo-
nesia’s foreign policy, especially in regards to how Indonesia perceives and reacts
to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The invasion is seen less as a state’s infringement
of another state’s sovereignty than a sibling spat that is widely exacerbated by
meddling from other countries.
Indonesia, the United States, Russia, Ukraine, state trauma, independent and ac-
tive foreign policy
On 11 August 2022, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Vasyl
Hamianin, the Ukrainian Ambassador in Jakarta, to express its displeasure over the
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
11(2) 214–232, 2024
© The Author(s) 2024
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/23477970241250097
1 Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani (UNJANI), Kota Cimahi, Jawa Barat, Indonesia
Corresponding author:
Yohanes Sulaiman, Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani (UNJANI), Kota Cimahi, Jawa Barat 40525,
E-mail: yohanes.sulaiman@lecture.unjani.ac.id
Subagyo et al. 215
latter’s criticism of Indonesia. Ambassador Hamianin had used Twitter to criticise
Indonesia’s condemnation over Israel’s attacks on Gazans, asking why Indonesia
did not also condemn Russia’s brutality in Ukraine (Ramadhan, 2022). A few days
before, he also criticised Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi’s statements
acknowledging the ‘Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)–Russia
partnership’ and her hope that the partnership with ASEAN would ‘bring peace
and prosperity based on the United Nations (UN) charter’. In response, Teuku
Faizasyah, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, asserted that while
Indonesia empathised with Ukraine, that did not mean that Indonesia could not
maintain its relationship with Russia (Ahmad, 2022).
Indonesia’s refusal to condemn Russia, especially in light of Russia’s unpro-
voked aggression on Ukraine with the explicit goal of deposing Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and installing a new government that is friendly
to Moscow, in addition to committing so many human rights violations in Ukraine,
is puzzling, especially in light of Indonesia’s consistent opposition to any military
intervention that threatens other states’ sovereignty. Indonesia was one of many
countries that openly opposed the United States’ invasion of Iraq, with Hassan
Wirajuda, then its foreign minister, declaring that it would be difficult to accept
any regime change through military intervention (Perlez, 2003). It also condemns
Israeli’s attack in Gaza, Palestina, in the aftermath of Hamas’ deadly attack on
Israel on 7 October 2023, declaring that it would not stay silent in face of heavy
civilian casualties and demanded to solve the root of the problem, which is ‘the
Israeli occupation of the Palestine’ (Kurmala, 2023).
Some scholars attributed this to the long history of Indonesia–Russia relation-
ship, which is dated as far back as in 1946 when the Soviet Union assisted
Indonesia in its struggle for independence (Lebang, 2010) by bringing the
‘Indonesian Question’ before the UNs Security Council in 1946, questioning the
use of Japanese troops to quash Indonesian independence movement (De Guzman,
1952). More than 10 years later, in 1962, the Soviet Union also contributed to
Indonesia’s attempt to liberate West Irian, the last area that it claimed was still
occupied by the Dutch, by supplying Indonesia with military equipment (Jingga,
2022). In fact, soldiers from the Soviet Union manned Indonesian submarines and
bombers, and they also helped Indonesia in planning for the invasion (Easter,
Aside from the long history of relationship between Russia and Indonesia,
other scholars look at the influence of anti-Western discourse in Indonesia as the
explanation of this support. Russia is seen as a challenger to the Western hegem-
ony, which is seen as hostile against Moslem community (Zemlianichenko, 2022).
Russia is essentially a ‘hero to a developing country’, which in turn means that
Indonesians are far more susceptible to disinformation campaigns and propa-
ganda from Russia. Furthermore, Putin’s hypermasculine image also helps, espe-
cially since strong leaders are seen as attractive in Indonesia (Dharmaputra, 2022).
Those explanations, however, are incomplete, as there is a limit to Indonesia’s
sympathy for the Russian position. This was evident when Indonesia voted with
the UNs General Assembly in demanding Russia to end its military operations in
Ukraine on 2 March 2022 and later to condemn Russia’s illegal annexation of four

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