An Indonesian defense minister’s peace plan for Ukraine has drawn fierce criticism from Western security officials but praise from China, highlighting the deep divide between the West and the global South over Russia’s invasion of its neighbour.
Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual defense conference in Singapore, Prabowo Subianto proposed a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine, followed by the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the current front lines, a UN mission and referenda in “disputed areas”. .
The pitch from Prabowo, a former special forces commander who is a leading candidate in next year’s presidential election in Indonesia, comes as the US and Europe struggle to convince many developing countries to criticize Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov scoffed at the proposal. “I’ll try to be polite,” he said on a separate panel at the conference. “It sounds like a Russian plan.” He added that “we don’t need these mediators proposing such a strange plan” before Russia was expelled from Ukraine.
Speaking directly after Indonesia’s defense chief, EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell said there should be “a just peace”, not “a peace of surrender”.
While Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, has officially condemned Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Prabowo’s remarks underline the growing ambivalence of countries outside the West about the conflict.
“We in Asia have our share of conflicts and wars, perhaps more disastrous, bloodier than what we experienced in Ukraine,” Prabowo said.
“Ask Vietnam, ask Cambodia, ask Indonesians how many times we’ve been invaded.” While emphasizing that he “didn’t equate the invader and invaded”, he said some reactions to the war were “too emotional”.
African and Latin American countries are increasingly opposed to viewing the conflict as a global war rather than a European war.
Several countries in Southeast Asia have abstained or even voted against draft resolutions in support of Kiev at the UN. Other developing countries are hesitant to impose sanctions against Russia.
Brazil’s top foreign policy adviser criticized the west’s tough stance on Moscow, telling the Financial Times that Western powers should take into account concerns over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s security.
In May, a diplomatic spat broke out between South Africa and the US after Washington’s ambassador claimed weapons had been loaded onto a ship docked in Cape Town bound for Russia.
Kajsa Ollongren, the Dutch Defense Minister, stressed that in this conflict “neutrality is not an option. All countries here expect their sovereignty to be respected,” she said at the conference. “But the sovereignty of Ukraine is not respected.”
Delegates from China, whose mediation efforts were greeted with deep skepticism in the west, praised Prabowo’s plan and chided Europe for its criticism.
“I really appreciate the efforts of our friends in the region, such as Indonesia and South Africa,” said Cui Tiankai, the former Chinese ambassador to the US.
“With all due respect to our Euro-Atlantic friends, I don’t think you are managing your own security situation effectively. Mismanagement might be a better word.”