Tuesday , May 22, 2018

Duterte's Moscow trip aims 'strong, enduring' PHL-Russia ties

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte will embark on a state visit to Moscow next week, with a goal to secure a "strong and enduring" relationship between the Philippines and Russia, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad said Friday.

Natividad said Duterte, upon the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is scheduled to visit Russia from May 22 to 26.

"It will be the first visit of the President to Russia and we believe, it will mark a new chapter in Philippine-Russia relations. We also see this visit as an indication of our strong, common desire to enhance and strengthen bilateral relations," Natividad said in a pre-departure press conference.

Duterte has sought strong alliance with Russia, which he considers a "friend," following apparent conflicting views with Philippines' long-time ally United States.

Natividad said Duterte is set to hold separate bilateral meetings with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Putin on May 24 and 25, respectively.

She said the Chief Executive would likely discuss important issues and areas of cooperation on economic, political, military, and defense with Medvedev and Putin.

Natividad said Duterte and Putin are also expected to hold restricted dialogue and witness signing of bilateral deals related to defense, security, legal assistance, trade and investment, peaceful use of nuclear energy, and culture.

"The two presidents will witness signing of agreements that are related to defense cooperation; military and technical cooperation; the treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters; treaty on extradition; an MOU (memorandum of agreement) on cooperation in the field of security between respective national security councils," she said.

The Philippines and Russia celebrated 40 years of diplomatic ties last year.

Natividad, however, said the bilateral engagement of both countries remains at a "nascent stage" in all areas of cooperation.

She stressed that Russian investments in the Philippines are still "miniscule". She added that Russian tourist arrivals in the Philippines are at around 38,000 only, still lower compared to number of tourists from Asean countries.

Natividad said Duterte's Moscow trip would pave way to deepen ties between the Philippines and Russia that will mutually benefit the Filipino and Russian peoples while maintaining "sovereignty, non-interference, and equality."

"The relations can be described as cordial, albeit, modest in scope and depth. Thus, we consider this visit as a landmark that will send a strong message of the Philippines’ commitment to seek new partnerships and strengthen relations with non-traditional partners such as Russia,” Natividad said.

“We believe that the President’s visit will be the start of a strong and enduring partnership between the Philippines and Russia, that is multi-dimensional, mutually beneficial, and will be in keeping with the principles of sovereignty, non-interference and equality,” she added.

Natividad said Duterte would also grace a business forum in Moscow, where he will be joined by Philippine business delegation. She said the forum will be an opportune time with the Russian companies to benefit doing business in the Philippines.

Natividad said the President would also deliver a policy speech at Russia’s state-run elite university Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).

"In that event, we expect the President to articulate his administration’s commitment to pursue and independent foreign policy that is anchored foremost on national interests' considerations," she said.

Natividad said Duterte would also meet the Filipino community in Russia. There are currently about 5,000 Filipinos residing and working in Russia. (SunStar Philippines)