Ambassador: Russia waiting for PH 'wish list'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 7) — Whatever the Philippines wants from Russia, all it has to do is ask.

"Any kind of support, it depends on you," Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev told CNN Philippines' 'The Source' on June 6.

"So we expect a specific wish list from our Philippine partners," he added. "President (Vladimir) Putin confirmed our readiness to discuss soft loans for the Philippines, but it should be a mutual discussion at expert-level."

 

Khovaev's statements come after President Rodrigo Duterte had to cut short his official visit to Russia after declaring martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao on May 23 after continuous fighting between government forces and the Maute group.

Read: Duterte declares martial law in Mindanao

Duterte was able to meet Putin — whom he first met at the APEC Economic Leaders' Summit in November 2016 — hours before returning to Manila.

Read: Duterte meets with Putin amid Marawi crisis

Putin at the time said he understood the situation in the Philippines and the need for Duterte to return home.

"I would like to begin our meeting by expressing condolences on the loss of Filipino lives in a terrorist attack," he said.  "My colleagues and I understand that you need to get back home as soon as possible. I hope that the conflict you have mentioned will be settled without delay with minimal losses."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said despite the change in schedule, agreements between the two countries were still signed.

Arms deals, intelligence sharing

Khovaev said the Philippines and Russia are working on the legal framework to set up arms deals.

"There's an immediate need for our two countries to create necessary legal basis," he said. "In this respect, of course, this visit substantially contributed to the creation of that necessary legal basis. But as for specific arms deals, of course, as I have already said, we expect a specific wish list and we'll be ready to discuss."

 

In November 2016, Duterte floated Russia as a possible arms supplier for the Philippine National Police after he cancelled an order for 26,000 assault rifles from the United States.

Read: Duterte scraps gun deal with U.S.

"Russia says, 'We have everything you need,'" he said during a visit to the gravesite of his parents.

The issue on the supposed "halted" arms deal came up after a report said a U.S. senator was against the sale due to human rights concerns in the Philippines.

Khovaev said both the Philippines and Russia likewise signed a memorandum of understanding to share intelligence with each other.

"We are ready to provide you assistance in staff training," he said. "We are ready to share our special experience. And I believe that our experience can and should be useful for our Filipino partners."

Open agriculture market, new railways

Khovaev also said both countries have signed a memorandum of understanding that allows the Philippines to export more agricultural products to Russia.

"It conveyed a message, a message to the business people of our two countries, especially for the Russian businessmen: 'Look. There is a country, the Philippines, which can and should be at the source of high-quality agricultural products.'"

 

In addition, Khovaev said Russian companies are interested in modernizing the Philippines' rail networks, aside from selling buses that run on alternative fuels.

"The Russian companies are very interested to invest, to bring their sophisticated technologies, to share our technologies with you, our special experience in order to help you modernize your railroad system," he said.

 

Khovaev added although the interest is primarily in Luzon and Metro Manila, such as a high-speed railway from Clark in Pampanga to Manila, he said Russian companies are ready to discuss any project.

'Special chemistry'

Khovaev said he sees very good prospects in the long-term, strategic interests of both the Philippines and Russia because of how Putin and Duterte get along.

"There is a very special personal chemistry between them," he said.

 

Indeed, Khovaev said Putin cut short a trip to the south of Russia just to catch Duterte before he left for Manila.

"It takes about three hours to get to Moscow by airplane and President Putin said immediately, 'I'll fly back to Moscow to meet with President Duterte before his departure from Moscow.' It was very important for him to talk to President Duterte, to agree upon what can and should be done for the promotion of our bilateral relations," he added.