Russia eyes closer military cooperation with PH, says Russian ambassador

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Stronger military ties are a key aspect of improving relations between Russia and the Philippines, Russia's envoy to the Philippines said Tuesday.

"Of course, we are interested in maintaining and strengthening our military ties in order to efficiently cope with common threats and challenges," Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev told CNN Philippines' The Source.

He said these threats include "terrorism, extremists, transboundary crime, piracy, illegal drug trafficking."

Khovaev said that among the projects already being considered by the two countries to strengthen military ties include "joint military drills, joint military exercises, on both bilateral and multilateral basis," exchange of visits and port calls, staff training, and possible supply of small arms weapons.

When asked by CNN Phiilppines about any procurement or deals in the pipeline concerning small arms weapons, Khovaev said there were.

"There are some definite, definite projects, but they are now under consideration," Khovaev said, adding that the two countries had to establish trust.

"There are two indispensable preconditions for a successful military cooperation. First, solid legal basis, and mutual trust. Nothing can be done automatically, some personal efforts are required," he said.

"The first step should be the signing of some relevant bilateral agreements, and we hope to sign these documents during the forthcoming visit by His Excellency President Duterte to Russia," he added.

 

In the wake of criticism by President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines' ally, the United States, Duterte has urged Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to look into Russia as a possible source of small arms weapons.

Khovaev, in a press conference on January 5, said Russia is "ready to supply small arms and light weapons, some aeroplanes, helicopters, submarines and many, many other weapons. Sophisticated weapons. Not the second-hand ones."

In his interview with "The Source" on Tuesday, the ambassador said it was up to the Philippines to determine the scope of the military cooperation.

"It's up to our Filipino partners to decide which option is acceptable for our partners. In any case, the final say will belong to the Philippine side," he said.

The Russian ambassador once again downplayed any possible military alliance, saying Russia has no such arrangements in the Asia Pacific region, and does not intend to build one.

"We have no military alliance in the Asia Pacific region. We speak against the existing military alliances because in our view, the security in the Asia Pacific region must be transparent and equal to all members of the international community," he said.

The Philippines has a longstanding military alliance with the United States, stemming from the Mutual Defense Treaty signed in 1951.

However, it has had no history of military cooperation with Russia. But Khovaev expressed hope that this would take off during President Duterte's visit to Russia in May.

Meanwhile, the Russian ambassador said they will not be taking sides on the issue of the South China Sea.

Khovaev said they are "in favor of an exclusively peaceful solution of all disputes in the South China Sea."

"It means that the solution should be found through talks, negotiations with all countries involved. No use of force or threat to use force is acceptable and the future mutual acceptable solutions should be based on the international law," he added.

 

Duterte is set to visit Russia later this year, upon the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin during the APEC Leaders' Meeting in Peru in November last year.

Earlier this month, Duterte and other public officials visited Russia's large anti-submarine ship, Admiral Tributs.

"Mabuhay kayo!…I hope you can come back more often," Duterte told Khovaev after signing the warship's guest book.

The warship was on a four-day goodwill visit after last docking in the Philippines in 2012.