Philippines’ Duterte looks to strengthen ties with trip to Moscow

Updated 1:04 PM EDT, Mon May 22, 2017
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Story highlights

Philippines President prepares for first visit to Russia, where he will meet President Vladimir Putin

Trip comes as Philippines realigns its diplomacy and trade policies in the face of Western criticism over human rights abuses

(CNN) —  

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will depart on an official five-day visit to Moscow Monday, as part of an effort to realign his country’s foreign policy away from longtime ally the United States.

Under Duterte, who took office in June 2016, the Philippines has made overtures toward Beijing and Moscow – seeing the countries as a source of much-needed investment – and away from the US.

In a pre-departure speech Monday, Duterte hailed the visit as the “writing of a new chapter in the Philippines-Russia relationship,” describing it as a chance to “correct” the “strategic oversight” of previous Filipino leaders.

“There are opportunities of cooperation that cannot be ignored” said Duterte. Reiterating his “firm resolve to broaden the horizons for friendship,” Duterte highlighted Russia’s “geographic footprint” as well as its “strategic interest in the (Asia Pacific) region” as reasons for extending cooperation between the two countries.

Relations between the Philippines’ traditional ally, the US, have been strained. Last year Duterte lashed out at former US President Barack Obama amid reports the US was canceling an arms deal over alleged human rights abuses.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets Philippines President  Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Lima, November 19, 2016.
MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Lima, November 19, 2016.

At the time, Duterte said, “I’m no American puppet,” and suggested Manila would turn to Russia instead.

Over the weekend, Duterte indicated that one of the top priorities of the trip would be to acquire Russian-made precision armaments, to use against Islamist militants in the Southern Philippines, local media reported.

“I’ve been scouting around for (a weapon to finish them off)… I’m going to Russia. Same purpose. If they can spare us the precision-guided (bombs)… we have so many smart bombs but not as accurate as the ones guided by laser or satellite,” he said at a Philippine Coast Guard Auxillary national convention, according to the Philstar.

The trip, alongside recent visits to China, is designed to diversify the Southeast Asian nations’ trade as relations with allies such as the European Union and the US become increasingly chilly.

Russian President Vladimir Putin extended the invitation on the sidelines of an APEC summit in Peru last November, according to Maria Natividad, Philippines’ assistant secretary for foreign affairs.

The trip sends “a strong message of the Philippines’ commitment to seek new partnerships and strengthen relations with nontraditional partners” such as Russia, Natividad said.

02:31 - Source: CNN
Who is Rodrigo Duterte?

First visit

The visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg marks the first time Duterte will visit Russia and his administration hopes it will “mark a new chapter in Philippine-Russia relations,” she added.

It will kick off with a bilateral meeting between Duterte and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, before the Philippines’ president gives a policy speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) on the Philippines’ independent foreign policy and “his ideas on how to achieve peace and security, especially in the Asia Pacific region.”

He will then meet Russian President Vladimir Putin – who Duterte previously described as his “favorite hero” – before hosting a gathering of expatriate Filipinos who have settled in Russia and surrounding countries.

The two countries last year marked 40 years of diplomatic relations, but ties remain “best described as cordial albeit modest in scope and depth,” Natividad said at a pre-departure briefing for the press ahead of the trip.

The trip, which a trade delegation will also attend, is expected to lead to deals in defense, security, legal assistance, tourism, the “peaceful use of nuclear energy” and cultural exchange.

Bilateral trade in 2016 totaled $226 million, with the Philippines only exporting $49 million worth of goods to Russia, Natividad said.