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Russia moves to strengthen ties to Indonesia

In Jakarta, Putin announces the sale of advanced military hardware to the Southeast Asian nation as 'the future world order is being decided.'

September 07, 2007|Paul Watson | Times Staff Writer

JAKARTA, INDONESIA — Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday promised more than $1 billion in advanced weapons to Indonesia and pressed for closer military and economic ties to this longtime U.S. ally in Southeast Asia.

Putin, the first Russian leader to visit Indonesia since former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev did so in the 1950s, agreed to provide two Kilo-class submarines, 20 amphibious tanks and 22 passenger and attack helicopters.

Under a separate agreement, Russia will sell Indonesia six Sukhoi jet fighters worth $335 million.

Indonesia is eager to do business with Russian arms makers, in part to limit the risk of being cut off by Washington as punishment for alleged human rights abuses. And Russian weapons are cheaper: Indonesia will get at least $1 billion worth of weapons without paying interest on a 15-year loan from the Russian government.

"Indonesia is one of the most dynamic and most influential countries in the Asia-Pacific region," Putin said during a news conference with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "And Russia is very interested in working together with this country."

In an opinion piece published Thursday in the English-language Jakarta Post, Putin said Russia "is ready to start a new page in our relations with Indonesia" as "the future world order is being decided."

With a population of nearly 240 million, on an archipelago spanning three time zones, Indonesia is the largest country in Southeast Asia and the most populous Muslim nation. The government is a frontline ally of the United States in the fight against terrorism and a force for moderation and democracy in the Muslim world.

The U.S. provided about $84 million in military sales and assistance to Jakarta this year, with a focus on counter-terrorism programs and reform, according to the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank. The amount of U.S. military aid is expected to remain steady next year.

In early 2006, President Bush lifted a ban on arms sales first imposed against Indonesia in 1991 after its troops fired on pro-democracy demonstrators in East Timor, killing at least 270 people.

The territory, which Indonesia invaded in 1975 and annexed the following year, became independent in 2002.

Congress said last year that the U.S. shouldn't restore full military links to Indonesia until members of the military are prosecuted for atrocities. U.S. lawmakers also called for reform of Indonesia's armed forces, which are a powerful political and commercial force in the emerging democracy.

But the Bush administration said in 2006 that the government in Jakarta had made significant progress since the overthrow of dictator Suharto in 1998, and resumed supplies of arms under a national security waiver.

Human rights groups criticized the decision, saying it rewards a culture of impunity in the Indonesian military, which continues to face allegations of killings, illegal detentions, corruption and other abuses.

Putin's visit also focused on increasing trade between Russia and Indonesia, which totaled less than $700 million this year. That figure should soon reach $1 billion, Yudhoyono said.

Russia will invest more than $4 billion in mining and energy projects here, mainly in aluminum and oil and gas, Yudhoyono said.

The Indonesian leader also asked Putin to send coaches for chess and judo, which drew a smile from the Russian president, a former KGB agent with a black belt in judo.

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