First Russian naval squadron visits Indonesia

A Russian naval squadron has arrived in Indonesia for the first time in nearly four decades as the two countries boost military ties, media reports said Saturday.

The vessels, which will remain in Jakarta for six days, sailed into Tanjung Priok port late Friday. They were greeted by Indonesian Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono and military chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, The Jakarta Post daily said.

The fleet is on an extended cruise that will last until the end of the year, with a number of port calls in India, Singapore and Thailand.

Indonesia relied heavily on Soviet military assistance in the 1950s under founding President Sukarno but their ties cooled under the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Gen. Suharto, who seized power in 1965. The last Russian naval squadron to visit Indonesia was in 1968.

Although the bulk of Indonesia's weaponry is now made up of U.S. equipment, a U.S. embargo on arms sales to Indonesia imposed 12 years ago because of human rights abuses has forced Jakarta to diversify its sources. Over the past several years, it as increasingly turned to Russia as a source of weapons, ranging from Kalashnikov rifles to Sukhoi SU-27 long-range fighters.

Although the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has relaxed the arms ban, Indonesian officers complain that complex U.S.-made systems such as aircraft or warships are too expensive to buy and difficult to maintain compared to their Russian equivalents, AP reports.

A. A.