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  • Writer's pictureParley Policy Initiative

The Indonesian & African peace proposals, explained

(Left) Indonesian Defense Minister Subianto at the Shangri-La Dialogue, 3 June 2023 (photo via IISS); (right) the African delegation holds a press conference with Volodymyr Zelensky, 16 June 2023 (photo via Ukrainian Presidential Office)


All wars end, it is merely a matter of when and how. Over the past eight months, several governments have expressed their positions on how to bring about an end to the Russia-Ukraine War. In November 2022, the Ukrainian government announced the “Ukrainian Peace Formula,” laying out ten issue areas that the Volodymyr Zelensky administration believes must be resolved to secure a just and lasting peace. Subsequently, the Chinese government weighed in with its own 12-point peace plan on the one-year anniversary of the invasion in February 2023.

We have now seen others put forward their own proposals from the vantage point of the so-called “Global South.” Indonesia discussed its measures for achieving peace at the Shangri-La Dialogue in early June, and African leaders traveled to Kyiv and Moscow on 16 and 17 June to pitch their own idea for how to end the war. What these governments proposed and why offer useful insights not just into ideas for the eventual peace process, but the far-reaching impacts Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

To understand the implications of it all, it is necessary first to break down the Indonesian and African peace proposals, then to examine the rationale and motivations behind them.

Indonesian Peace Proposal

During his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on 3 June 2023, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto delivered his government’s idea for ending hostilities against Ukraine. The scope of this proposal was not meant to encompass a complete diplomatic peace, but to cover what was necessary to achieve a meaningful ceasefire and establish a foundation for peacebuilding. Subianto laid out five points to that end:

First, a ceasefire that stops hostilities at the current battle line.

Second, the withdrawal of forces 15 kilometers each from the battle line to establish a 30-kilometer-wide demilitarized zone.

Third, the establishment of a United Nations monitoring and observer force.

Fourth, the immediate deployment of this observer force along the new demilitarized zone.

Fifth, UN-organized and executed referenda in the occupied territories of Ukraine to offer residents an option for self-determination on whether to remain part of Ukraine or to secede to Russia.

Defense Minister Subianto delivers his speech during the Shangri-La Dialogue, 3 June 2023 (photo via IISS)

African Peace Proposal

On 16 and 17 June, the delegation for the “African Heads of State and Government Peace Initiative” traveled to Kyiv and St. Petersburg for discussions with Ukrainian and Russian officials on an African peace plan. The delegation was composed of the following members:

  • Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa (Lead)

  • Azali Assoumani, President of Comoros and Chairperson of the African Union

  • Macky Sall, President of Senegal

  • Hakainde Hichilema, President of Zambia

  • Mostafa Madbouly, Prime Minister of Egypt

  • Florent Ntsiba, Director of the Cabinet of Congo-Brazzaville

  • Ruhakana Rugunda, Former Prime Minister of Uganda

During their meetings, the delegation laid out their 10-step African peace plan:

Step 1: Listen to both parties to conflict

Step 2: Encourage the resumption of ceasefire negotiations

Step 3: De-escalate the conflict

Step 4: Ensure respect for the sovereignty of territorial boundaries as prescribed under the UN Charter

Step 5: Establish security guarantees for both sides

Step 6: Implement measures to preserve food security

Step 7: Facilitate humanitarian aid delivery

Step 8: Implement the mandatory exchange of all captives (including forcible deportees)

Step 9: Facilitate postwar reconstruction

Step 10: Establish better relations between Russia, Ukraine, and African countries

(Left) The African delegates meet with Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, 16 June 2023 (photo via the Ukrainian presidential office); (right) the delegates with Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg, 17 June 2023 (photo via the South African presidential office)

Within these steps, the African peace proposal included several confidence building measures prescribed to facilitate de-escalation of the conflict. Those included but were not necessarily limited to the following: (1) withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine; (2) withdrawal of Russian tactical nuclear weapons from Belarus; (3) suspension of the arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin issued by the International Criminal Court; and (4) relaxation of sanctions against Russia.

The rationale behind the proposals

Although both Ukrainian and Russian officials have rejected the fundamental premise of these peace plans, there is rationale to each of the components of Indonesia and African proposals. They are rooted in the key points below.

  • The war will end in negotiations. Even President Volodymyr Zelensky has acknowledged this fundamental point. While the Ukrainian Peace Formula offers a framework for negotiations aimed at a full diplomatic peace, the Indonesian and African peace proposals target a cessation of military hostilities and the establishment of a foundation for follow-on diplomatic negotiations.

  • The longer the parties wait to negotiate, the greater the costs. While the Ukrainian side is working to inflict these costs upon Russian forces via its counteroffensive, the destruction of Kakhovka Dam and continued Russian missile attacks on civilian infrastructure illustrate that the consequences of continued fighting will not be confined to the battlefield.

  • A demilitarized zone is a component of durable peace agreements. All good peace agreements incorporate a separation of forces which mitigates the risk of accidental security incidents while preventing the massing of forces that would enable a sudden attack or invasion.

  • Durable peace agreements include third party oversight. The creation of a UN monitoring force enables third parties to provide safeguards for implementation and modifies the calculus associated with the use of military force. The deployment of this force in and along the DMZ is the most logical place for such a monitoring force to operate, as it would oversee the practical implementation of any ceasefire agreements.

  • UN-sponsored referenda offer tools for invalidating Russian legal claims. In September 2022, Russian-backed authorities conducted elections in occupied territories to justify its illegal annexation of Ukrainian land. These were not validated by international observers and were later rejected by the international community; therefore, the rationale for holding UN-observed referenda would be to invalidate those previous elections while justifying the international community’s decision not to recognize Russia’s illegal annexation.

  • Confidence building measures offer a means of “logrolling” in ceasefire negotiations. There are several issue areas that could yield reciprocal concessions in peace negotiations. The African peace proposal addresses those interests by offering tit-for-tat options (e.g., relaxation of sanctions in exchange for Russian troop withdrawal).

The motives behind their proposals

A basic question that many observers will be asking is why countries like Indonesia, South Africa, Egypt, Zambia, Senegal, and Comoros are weighing in on peace negotiations related to a war that is being waged in Eastern Europe. Is it because they are bowing to Russian pressure? Is it because they think they have a solution that no one else has?

At the core of this explanation is the simple fact that Russia’s ongoing war is generating negative impacts on those countries. People across the globe are feeling the influence of the war on their economy and resources—those effects are amplified in developing countries, particularly those with dependency upon Russian and Ukrainian grain, fertilizer, and energy products. Defense Minister Subianto argued this in his Shangri-La speech:

Yes, the Shangri-La Dialogue has been in the past focused primarily on the Indo-Pacific region, but the presence of so many of our friends from Europe testify to the fact that security in the Indo-Pacific is affected by security and the situation in Europe and vice versa. As I said, our planet has become smaller. What happens in Ukraine affects the livelihoods of all the peoples of the world. The price of energy has gone up; the price of food has gone up. This has resulted in much suffering for many peoples of the world.

This same principle applies to the countries represented in the African delegation—even more so for those countries with deeper diplomatic and economic ties to Russia. While there is clear self-interest involved in these peace efforts, it does not discount the value of these governments’ experiences in negotiating, mediating, and implementing peace processes. Indonesia and nearly all the countries represented in the African delegation have all experienced some form of interstate or intrastate conflict, in some cases with similar requirements for their peace processes as those which will eventually be needed for Russia and Ukraine. For example, Indonesia dealt with war, the loss of territory, and the employment of a UN-backed referendum in its conflict with Timor-Leste. Egypt had engaged in multiple bouts of hostilities with Israel in the UN-era, and its peace process included the signing of an Armistice in 1949 and the eventual diplomatic peace treaty in 1979. Of note, the treaty-mandated Multinational Force and Observers-Sinai still operates between Egypt and Israel to provide third party oversight to this day. Meanwhile, South Africa required negotiations between the two opposing sides of apartheid to overcome deep enmity and distrust in achieving transformational change. Thus, these peace proposals come from governments with practical experiences and lessons learned, and although difficult to appreciate in the middle of Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian occupiers, might one day provide utility in ending a war that is having global impacts.

What this means going forward

Right now, neither the Russians nor the Ukrainians are enthusiastic about these proposals. Ukraine has expressed its will to continue its counteroffensive until Russian troops completely withdraw to pre-1991 borders. Officials from Kyiv contend that anything that simply freezes conflict will not be enough to ensure Ukraine’s long-term survival. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s partners are not backing any peace proposals that stray from the Ukrainian Peace Formula. On the other side, Russia has taken an inconsistent approach. Although the Kremlin withheld substantive comment on the Indonesian peace proposal, Putin took the opportunity during the African delegation’s visit to issue several claims and rebuttals. Behind that rhetoric, the Kremlin is looking for peace proposals that recognize Russia’s territorial gains while yielding additional political concessions vis-à-vis Ukraine’s alignment and defense buildup. This all means that an Indonesian- or African-led peace process is unlikely, but there are still two important points from these alternative proposals. First, these peace plans offer some practical options and considerations for future peace negotiators in the Russia-Ukraine War. The proposals come with fewer political constraints in their formation and with lessons learned from real-world experience which, even if they are rejected by the parties to conflict now, could offer useful ideas when they eventually return to the negotiating table. Second, the proposals signal that these countries would be willing to invest personnel and resources into the postwar implementation of peace agreements. Defense Minister Subianto clearly articulated that his government would send its forces to be part of a UN-approved monitoring force. This could also be true of the African delegation, many of which already provide forces to UN peacekeeping missions. While this may not be Kyiv or Moscow’s preference, it does provide an option for third party oversight that could be acceptable alternatives to personnel from NATO or Collective Security Treaty Organization countries. Indonesia, the African delegates, and other countries will have another opportunity to influence the peace process at the “Global Peace Summit.” The Ukrainian government has been working to organize this summit since publishing its peace formula last year, and Zelensky delivered his invitation to the African delegates during their visit to Kyiv. Whether any of these proposals will take root during that summit is yet to be seen, but these governments have at least signaled their intent to plant the seeds needed to speed an end to the war.

Cable No 34_The Indonesian and African peace proposals explained
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