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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MANILA: Moscow’s Ambassador to Manila Igor Khovaev says that relations between the countries are at the “highest level in history” and gave credit to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte for the improvement in diplomatic ties with Russia, particularly in the area of defense.
“I believe that we have all reasons to say that our bilateral relations are at the highest level in our history. Of course, after the election of ... President (Rodrigo) Duterte, absolutely new horizons (were) opened up,” Khovaev told Arab News.
“We highly appreciate an independent foreign policy pursued by President Duterte, and we understand that the diversification of the external ties of your country means keeping old friends and partners and getting the new ones.”
Khovaev added that Russia has always been clear that it is “ready to be a new reliable partner and a new good friend for the Philippines with no damage to (its) traditionally close relationships with other countries.”
Khovaev has been the longest-serving Russian envoy to Manila since assuming office in 2015.
As he nears the end of his tour of duty in Manila, he highlighted some of the major developments in bilateral ties between the Philippines and Russia.
“I arrived in Manila in April 2015. At that time, you had President (Benigno) Aquino. At that time, I couldn’t even imagine that it would be possible even to discuss possibilities for our bilateral defense and security cooperation,” he said.
However, with Duterte’s “independent foreign policy thrust,” he said, the bilateral engagement between the Philippines and Russia had “broadened,” resulting in the establishment of confidence-building activities between the two nations’ defense sector.
He said that the Philippines’ old and long-time allies “have no right to be jealous” or “to put any obstacles” in the way of bilateral cooperation.
Khovaev reiterated that under the present defense partnership, Russia was ready to supply the Philippines with sophisticated arms and weapons.
“We never offer secondhand arms and weapons. The same arms and weapons the Russian armed forces are using. Because we respect our partners,” he said.
Khovaev also cited a verbal agreement between the two countries on the acquisition of helicopters, without divulging any other details as “this cooperation requires a certain degree of confidentiality.”
“Many things are under consideration . . . but, everything is being done in the spirit of partnership and mutual trust. Because it’s not just a trading deal, we want to build a long-term partnership between our two countries,” the ambassador said.
“So, no political linkages, and no political meddling . . . we are ready to discuss any option of our cooperation.”
Khovaev added that another idea worth exploring was joint military exercises, which were “very possible.”
“We are ready to discuss it after the pandemic,” he said.
As a stepping stone for that initiative, officers from the Presidential Security Group (PSG) have already visited Russia for joint training sessions with their Russian colleagues.
“They shared their best practices with their Philippine counterparts. And I think it’s important for your country because the world is diversified . . . And it’s just pragmatic to use the best experience, the best practices of different countries in your own interest,” he said.
“We are ready to share our experience in defense building practices. We are ready to discuss anything you Filipinos want to help your country to increase your defense capabilities. I’m saying again, without any political linkage,” he said.
In the fight against terrorism, Khovaev said that Russia was open to an exchange of information, adding that the Philippines’ intelligence service had access to the Russian bank of information on terrorist organizations.
“Many things have been discussed during the consultations between the Russian security council and the Philippine National Security Council. This mechanism of consultations will be resumed after the pandemic. So, we have good channels for cooperation and dialogue,” he said.
Khovaev thanked the Philippines president for the positive momentum of ties capped by “unprecedented” multiple meetings between Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Wednesday, Duterte hailed Khovaev for his contribution in deepening defense ties when the envoy met the president for a farewell in Malacanang.
Duterte lauded Khovaev for his crucial role in redefining and reinvigorating Philippines-Russia relations.
“Key agreements were signed and consultative mechanisms established, particularly in the areas of defense and security, trade and economic cooperation, science and technology, and health,” Malacanang said in a statement.
Duterte noted Khovaev’s role in facilitating confidence-building measures and conferred him with the Order of Sikatuna, with the rank of Datu (Grand Cross), gold distinction.
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