The relationship between the Philippines and Russia has never been better, and we have Rodrigo Duterte to thank for it.
In early October, President Duterte came back from a very successful trip from Russia. He secured ₱620M worth of investments from this visit, and a promise of closer bilateral economic and defense cooperation between the two countries.
This development should not come as a surprise as this is the second time Duterte visited the Slavic State. In 2016, Duterte broke the century-old ice between Philippines-Russia relations by visiting Moscow. It seems like there has been a renaissance of relations between the two countries since the start of the Duterte Administration.
Back in March of this year, Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev likened it to “a new chapter opening” in the history of bilateral relations between the two countries. This is clearly in line with the “independent foreign policy” President Duterte is pursuing.
“During the last two years, our two countries concluded more documents on bilateral cooperation in different fields than the previous 40 years. It’s really tremendous, substantial progress,” said Khovaev.
With all signs pointing towards stronger relations with Russia – what does this mean for the Philippines and the Filipino people?
A pivot to non-traditional allies in the East
Part of the Duterte administration’s foreign policy seems like establishing level ground for both traditional (i.e. the US and other Western Countries) and non-traditional partners (i.e. China and Russia).
This pivot can be best summed up by the President’s speech in his recently concluded trip to Russia.
President Duterte spoke in the 6th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club in the Russian city of Sochi. Present were Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as other Eurasian leaders.
He explained that Russia “remained in the margins of our diplomacy” for two decades after the end of the Cold War, as we were more focused on relations with our traditional allies. Duterte said that this is a “massive failure to grasp change and seize new opportunities.”
Despite this, Duterte made it clear that this strengthening of relations with Russia is not about going against the ideologies of the US or the West. It is more of expanding the horizon of Philippine diplomacy by engaging in deeper relations with other like-minded nations in the East.
This promise of a deeper engagement is already well underway, based on the support that Russia is providing the Philippines on several fronts.
In addition to P620 million worth of business deals, President Duterte signed a memorandum of intent on the possible construction of nuclear power plants in the country, based on Russian nuclear technology.
On the infrastructure front, Russia is also contributing to the administration’s ‘Build Build Build‘ initiative. Ambasador Khovaev recently said that exploration talks are underway to construct a massive railway line connecting Manila with Northern Luzon provinces like Ilocos and Cagayan.
In addition, the Philippines is actually already strengthening defense and military cooperation with Russia.
As a matter of fact, Khovaev said that Russia wants to help the Philippines develop its own defense industry by exploring the possibility of manufacturing small arms and other light weapons in the country. He also adds that Russia is ready to supply weapons to the Philippines “with no political conditionality” attached to the deal.
New allies, new opportunities
As a sign of commitment to continued strengthening of relations between the two countries, Khovaev also said that President Putin accepted with gratitude President Duterte’s invitation to visit the Philippines.
“At this moment, I can only express my hope that this visit will be made as soon as possible. When? I don’t know. But we’ll do our best to arrange this visit as soon as possible,” explains Khovaev.
President Duterte’s strengthening of non-traditional diplomatic ties opens the Philippines to more opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t get by sticking with traditional allies. With its overwhelming support, Russia might just be the ally that we need in our continued push for a better Philippines.