Philippines - Soviet/Russia Relations
The Philippine government was always deeply suspicious of the Soviet Union because of Moscow's ideological support for communist insurgents. Marcos sometimes dispatched his wife to Moscow, but only for the purpose of reminding Washington that there were alternatives to exclusive reliance on the West for aid. Soviet Communist Party general secretary Leonid Brezhnev reciprocated by voicing support of Manila in opposition to the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People's Army.
The government of Mikhail Gorbachev was embarrassed by its own diplomatic clumsiness in dispatching the sole foreign ambassador to attend Marcos's pitiful final inauguration on February 25, 1986, but it later opened cautious diplomatic dialogue with the Aquino government and promised to continue to refuse support to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People's Army. In 1988 Moscow played on the Philippine-United States bases controversy by offering to pull out from Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam in return for United States withdrawal from Clark and Subic bases, an initiative that withered on the vine.
In 1991 Moscow hoped to acquire access to Philippine ports and dockyards for its fishing fleet as a result of warmer relations with Manila.
In 2016 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte signaled a drastic shift from long-standing ties with the US as Manila seeks to bolster relations with traditional US rivals China and Russia. Duterte instructed the nation’s defense ministry to "reformat" drills with Washington, even though the Philippines was once a US territory and the two countries formally agreed to a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951. Duterte’s pivot from ties with the US launched into overdrive in October 2016, when he said in a speech that US President Barack Obama to "go to hell" for treating the country "like a doormat."
President Rodrigo Duterte said on 08 November 2016 he would cancel an order for 26,000 US-made M16 rifles, originally intended to arm the country’s national police, to "look for a cheaper source." “He [Russian President Vladimir Putin] was pleased to hear our offer of friendship, pleased with the fact that the initiative came from us. Not because we need money … or arms. If we have money, we will buy them [arms],” Duterte told the Rossiya-24 broadcaster. The following day, Duterte congratulated US President-elect Donald Trump and expressed hope that relations between the two nations would improve in the future.
On 25 November 2016, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia and the Philippines would hold negotiations to sign a defense cooperation agreement.
Duterte said 28 November 2016 "I am not ready for military alliances because we have a treaty that was signed in the 50s. But I am ready to cooperate with my new friends – China and Russia – to make this world more peaceful. US has decided to cancel the procurement of weapons. And I said, 'I have a friend who has plenty," Duterte told RT in an interview. The president answered in the affirmative on the interviewer’s question if Philippines were leaning towards cooperation with China and Russia, rather than with the United States.
One of the weakest military forces in Southeast Asia is looking towards Russia to beef up its defense. After being denied weapons – and criticized in the U.S. media – for his take-no-prisoners policy against the drugs mafia, Duterte indicated he may turn to Moscow to provide his country with weapons. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) require an urgent infusion of modern weapons, but what the AFP doesn’t need are expensive toys. High-performance – and gas guzzling – warplanes like the F-16 (offered by the U.S.) or the South Korean FA-50 Golden Eagle jet fighter are redundant for two reasons. One, the Philippines has no external enemies. Two, Manila will never be able to afford these jets in sufficient numbers to be able to present a credible defense.
Manila’s primary security threats are land-based – communist insurgents and Islamic groups who have been running a separatist movement for decades. What the AFP requires are light ground attack aircraft that can be deployed against terrorists in the dense forests of Southeast Asia. The cheap and Syrian War tested Su-25 (NATO codename Frogfoot) is ideally suited for this role. At just $15 million per unit, the subsonic Yakolev Yak-130 fighter is the friendly fighter for countries with limited budgets. The Yak-130’s multi-mission capabilities in training, air policing, and counterinsurgency make it an attractive option for some customers.
Predictably, Moscow was thrilled with Duterte’s ovetures. “Formulate your wish list,” Igor Khovaev, Russia’s ambassador to the country, told Duterte. “Think of what kind of assistance you expect from Russia and we will be ready to sit down with you and discuss what can and should be done.” According to Carlos D. Sorreta, former Director, Philippine Foreign Service Institute and now the Philippine Ambassador in Moscow, there are two clear advantages Russian arms sales policies have over the West: “One, Russian arms are more competitively priced. The other is that little to no conditions are attached to these sales.”
In a move few could have predicted to start off 2017, the Russian destroyer Admiral Tributs and sea tanker Boris Butoma arrived in the Philippines to conduct military training exercises in an unprecedented navy-to-navy contact between the two nations. The warships arrived in the region on 03 January 2017 as Russian Navy Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov proclaimed a joint mission between Manila and Moscow to target the region’s two most pressing security concerns, maritime piracy and terrorism. "We’re very sure," the commander of the Russian pacific fleet said, "in the future" Russia and the Philippines will "get such exercises, maybe just the maneuvering." Alternatively, "maybe just use some combat systems and so on," he noted, so as not to tip Russia’s hand concerning its regional naval strategy.
Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia's Pacific Fleet, told a press conference in Manila that the Russian and Philippine governments are preparing to discuss joint naval drills, which would help to fend off the threats of terrorism and piracy. "Our governments will soon discuss the possibility of holding joint naval drills. Terrorism and piracy remain some of the most serious problems facing the world today, and our exercises could help to demonstrate our readiness to deal with these problems," Mikhailov said. Mikhailov also mentioned the possibility of Russia and the Philippines co-operating on naval drills in the South China Sea, along with other countries in the region.
Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev expressed Moscow’s enthusiasm to equip the island nation with high-tech military hardware. While Russia will operate “in full compliance with international law,” Khovaev said that Russia is “ready to supply small arms and light weapons, some aeroplanes, helicopters, submarines, and many, many other weapons. Sophisticated weapons. Not the second-hand ones.”
The Philippines' military was looking forward to signing a memorandum of understanding with Moscow to allow regular contacts with its Russian counterparts, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said. Manila is also pursuing through Russian weapons offerings, and is considering purchasing specialized sniper rifles, UAVs and maybe even submarines. Speaking at a press conference on 26 January 2017, Philippines' Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana confirmed that he would be joining President Rodrigo Duterte for his official visit to Moscow in April or May. He noted that he looks forward to signing a Memorandum of Understanding with his Russian counterpart during the visit that would allow for regular exchanges to take place between the two countries' militaries.
"I will accompany the President there. We hope to sign an MOU – a military-to-military agreement with the Russians, that would allow visitation of troops and perhaps ships coming here," the Secretary said. "They could observe our exercises. We could also observe their exercises there," he added. The agreement may also allow for the exchange of students in Russian and Filipino officer schools, according to the official.
Lorenzana added that Russia has offered Manila a variety of different weapons systems, including "ships, submarines, aircraft, and helicopters.... We will look into that because we should buy in accordance with our modernization plan…We will buy smart, will buy quality items and which will suit the needs of people on the ground," the defense official stressed, pointing to Manila's modest efforts to modernize the military. As far as the subs go, the Philippine government's news bureau indicated that the Department of National Defense is "determining whether these specialized ships are essential for the modernization needs of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and whether the country can afford to acquire and maintain such an expensive weapons platform."
In advance of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Moscow visit, Russia invited the Philippines to join a database-sharing system to help combat trans-national crime and terrorism. Moscow also offered to train Duterte’s elite security guards. The offer was made by Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of Russia's Security Council during a meeting 17 February 2017 with Philippine security officials in Davao, the hometown of Philippine President Duterte. Officials and analysts expect the Duterte visit to be path-breaking, although they rule out talk of a military alliance between the two countries that were on the opposing ends of the spectrum during the Cold War. Vasily Kashin from the Institute for Far Eastern Studies believes the Philippines may be interested in buying Mi-17 multipurpose helicopters, Mi-35 attack helicopters and the Su-25 Frogfoot aircraft.
Rodrigo Duterte visitrf Russia October 1-5, partly to speak with Putin about increasing security and defense cooperation. Duterte toured Vnukovo Military Base Airport in Moscow on 02 October 2019. Duterte’s meeting with Putin signaled Moscow's interest in playing a tricky but persuasive role in the South China Sea maritime sovereignty dispute now dominated by China and the United States. Russia might offer to sell arms to the Philippines, having sold weapons to other Southeast Asian countries claiming the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea. Russian arms sales to the Philippines would reduce US military influence in the sea but yet be handled in ways that avoid weakening the presence of Moscow’s decades-old friend, Beijing.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|