Russia has responded warmly to the friendly overtures of President Rodrigo Duterte, with its ambassador to the Philippines saying it is time for both countries to discover each other.
Russian envoy to Manila Igor Khovaev said security cooperation must be equal between all members of the international community even as he urged the Philippines to diversify its circle of foreign partners.
“Diversification of partners doesn’t mean choosing between old or new but having good relations with many,” he told reporters aboard the Admiral Tributs docked on Manila Bay on Wednesday.
The ambassador disclosed that the Philippines and Russia are now “making necessary efforts” on the possibility of military defense cooperation under two preconditions: A solid legal basis and a mutual trust.
“We need new partners in Asia Pacific region, including the Philippines. It’s time for the Philippines to discover Russia and time for Russians to discover the Philippines,” he said.
Khovaev asked “third-party countries” to “refrain from interfering with bilateral relations between the Philippines and Russia,” emphasizing that “traditional partners” should not be concerned with the dealings of the two countries.
Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of the Russian Navy’s Pacific fleet, on Tuesday raised the prospect of joint military drills with the Philippine navy.
Russia’s destroyer Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butomato made a rare stop in Manila as Duterte dramatically shifts the Philippines’ foreign and military alliances toward Russia, as well as China.
The United States sees no problem in potential military exercises between the Philippines and Russia.
US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said Washington acknowledges that foreign relations are not binary and a sovereign state has the right to pursue alliances with other countries.
“I think I’d let the Philippine government and the Russian government speak to the degree of their bilateral defense relations and how that is taking shape,” Kirby said in a press briefing in Washington on Wednesday.
“I’ve said many times – and this is a good example of it – that foreign relations aren’t binary, right? And these choices that countries have to make are not binary choices, and every nation-state has the right to pursue bilateral relations of its own choosing,” he added.
The Philippines, a former American colony, had for decades been one of the US’ most important and loyal allies in Asia.
Kirby maintained that the defense relationship between the two countries “remains very, very strong.”
“We do have security commitments, alliance commitments that we take very, very seriously. And that defense cooperation has always been provided at the request of Philippine administrations, so our overall mil-to-mil relations remain robust, they remain multifaceted, and that’s the way we want to see it continue,” he said.