THE Department of National Defense (DND) over the weekend expressed optimism that the country’s defense ties with Russia will vastly improve under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement that he is optimistic that relations with the department’s Russian counterpart will improve under the independent foreign policy thrust of the administration.
Speaking aboard the Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs, the defense secretary said that he sees the latest goodwill visit of the Russian Navy in the country as a “start of partnership” between the defense establishments of the country and Russia.
Admiral Tributs is an Udaloy class anti-submarine destroyer together with the tanker and supply ship Boris Botoma of the Russian navy were both docked at Pier 15 at the Manila South Harbor for a four-day goodwill visit.
Duterte on Friday said he wants Russia to be the Philippine’s “ally and protector” amid wavering relations with the country’s traditional ally, the United States.
He made the statement before a Russian Navy contingent during his visit on the Russian warship.
“We welcome our Russian friends. Anytime you want to dock here for anything, for play, to replenish supplies or maybe our ally to protect us,” the President said.
Lorenzana, for his part, told the Russian delegation: “We thank you sincerely for this cordial gesture and we hope that this will be the start of a partnership between the One Defense Team – Philippines and its counterpart in the Russian Federation.”
Broadened borders of support
In a radio interview on Saturday, Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella clarified that Duterte was not confining the Philippines’ partnership to just one country such as Russia.
He said the President sought to broaden the “borders of support” the Philippines is getting from all of its allied countries.
“So basically, [Duterte’s statement] is not only intended to Russia but also to our neighbor[ing countries]. Kumbaga, sinasabi ng Presidente [In a sense, what the President wants to say] is we are beginning to recognize that our borders are not necessarily limited or confined to simply one country or one geopolitical force,” Abella said in the interview aired over government-run dzRB radio.
Earlier, Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, who led the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet, said the Russian government was willing to help in advancing the Philippines’ military capabilities, as part of the two countries’ interest of mutual cooperation and enhancement.
“As far as I understand the Philippines, there is an objective need to diversify the range of circle of your foreign partners,” Mikhailov said in a press conference on Wednesday.
Military to military ties
Lorenzana revealed that his trip to Russia early last month, where he met with the Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and Director Alexander Fomin of the Federal Service of Military Technical Cooperation, was spent discussing mutual concerns such as terrorism and illegal drugs.
The possibility of future military to military engagements was also discussed.
The defense secretary also said that he conveyed to Russian officials his agreement to continue the pending Memorandum of Understanding between the two defense organizations that was initiated in 2014.
The Philippines and Russia agreed that the MOU should be finalized and signed during the upcoming visit of Duterte to Russia.
Once signed, the MOU becomes the basis of all future military to military engagements which may include visits, exchange of students, conferences, joint exercises, among others, the defense secretary said.
“May our common aspirations for regional and global peace and security enable us to become good partners, cooperating and coordinating towards tranquil and safe seas for all,” Lorenzana said.