Duterte vows to boost Russia ties

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“Russia must cease to be at the margins of Philippine diplomacy,” President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday, as he seeks closer ties with Moscow and steer the country’s foreign policy course further away from longtime ally, the United States.

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Duterte, who left for a four-day official trip to the Russian Federation Monday afternoon, said his “landmark visit” to Russia would strengthen the country’s independent foreign policy by expanding and deepening Manila’s relationship with Moscow, a non-traditional ally.

“Overdependence on traditional partners has limited our room to maneuver in a very dynamic international arena. This is a strategic oversight that has led to many missed opportunities for our country. I am determined to correct this,” Duterte said in his pre-departure speech at the Davao City international airport.

“Russia is a country that we must work with. There are opportunities for cooperation that cannot be ignored.
With [its]geographic footprint in the Asia-Pacific region and its strategic interests in the region, a positive engagement is required to find areas of synergies in interests,” he added.

The Philippines, a former US colony, signed a treaty alliance with Washington in 1951.

Duterte, however, has been a vocal critic of the Western giant after the latter raised concern on the deaths of thousands of drug suspects amid his crackdown on narcotics.

The President said diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Russia started four decades ago, but added that the doors of cooperation have only opened “ever so slightly.”

“There is much room to develop mutually beneficial cooperation.

There are many opportunities that needed to be explored. Now we can work together to open those doors even wider,” Duterte said after discussing how he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to give “a much needed boost” to the two countries’ bilateral relations.

“My administration will give [Philippines-Russia] relations the importance commensurate to its full potential. We will push for pragmatic engagement in the politico-security sphere, increased economic cooperation, and enhanced cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

This is a concrete expression of this deliberate policy decision,” he said.

Meetings with Putin, Medvedev|

Duterte is scheduled to meet with Russian leaders Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday and with Putin on Thursday.

“We will discuss ways of charting the future direction of our partnership across many areas. [We will] exchange views [on]regional and international issues to determine how we can best advance our shared interests,” he said.

Duterte and Putin will witness the signing of pacts on defense cooperation as well as military and technical cooperation, treaties on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters and extradition, a memorandum of agreement on cooperation in the field of security between two countries’ national security councils, as well as agreements on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and culture.

The Philippine leader had a bilateral meeting with Medvedev on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Laos last September.

He also met with Putin during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru last November.

While in Moscow, Duterte said said he would take the opportunity to engage the business leaders in Russia.

“With the Philippines’ emphasis on sustaining our economic growth, we seek responsible economic partners who will become our new allies in development. I will let them know that the Philippines means serious business,” he said.

Duterte is expected to arrive in Moscow at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday, Manila time. His official activities will begin on Wednesday, including his acceptance of an honorary doctorate (see story on A1), a meeting with Russian businessmen, and a meeting with the Filipino community.

The President said his visit also give the rare opportunity for the Russian people, through various events and activities, to know more about the Philippines and the Filipino people.

“I will engage the Russian youth who should know that Filipinos consider Russia as friends and that we seek nothing more than a friendship of equals based on mutual respect,” Duterte said.

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