May 29, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6947

Russia-Philippines Relations: Defense Agreements But Short Of Military Alliance

May 29, 2017
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6947

On May 23, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. However, Duterte had to suddenly return back to Manila, due to a terrorist attack that hit the southern island of Mindanao. Nevertheless, his ministers signed close to $1 billion worth of business deals with Russian firms.[1] The Philippines and Russia have also signed an Agreement on Defense Cooperation. The defense cooperation will expand "exchanges in terms of training, seminars and best practices between the two countries, with the end to develop relations in the field of military education, including military medicine, military history, sports, and culture as well as experiences in consultation, observer participation in military training exercises, and military port calls."[2]

During his airport departure speech, before leaving for Moscow, Duterte said: "Russia is a country that we must work with. There are opportunities for cooperation that cannot be ignored. With its geographic footprint in the Asia-Pacific region and strategic interests in the region, a positive engagement is required to find areas of synergies and interests." Duterte then added: "It is my hope that this official visit will lay the firm basis for a robust, comprehensive and mutually-beneficial Philippine-Russian partnership, founded with a shared aspiration, sovereign equality, and pragmatism. There is room for growth. There is room for positive change."

Duterte also stressed that Russia should not be relegated to the margins of Philippines diplomacy: "Our dependence on traditional partners [i.e. the U.S.] has limited our room to maneuver in a very dynamic international arena. This is strategic oversight that has led to many missed opportunities for our country. I am determined to correct this." He then added: "My administration will give Philippines-Russia relations the importance commensurate its full potential. We will push for pragmatic engagement in the politico-security sphere, increased economic cooperation and enhanced cultural and people-to-people exchanges. This is a concrete expression of this deliberate policy decision."[3]

In his departure speech, Duterte also mentioned that in Russia he would be shopping for precision-guided munitions for use against ISIS-linked terrorist groups in the Philippines. Duterte said: "It is difficult for us. So we have this ISIS thing. 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."[4]

The Philippine media reported that during the visit Russia asked the Philippines to submit "a shopping list of defense equipment," after Duterte urged Russian Putin to provide him with a loan to buy weaponry.[5] Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said: "The response of the Russian Federation through President Putin was very, very generous. So they said, well, we have the framework in place through our agreements to cooperate… They have showed us what is available to us. I’m not at liberty now to discuss that…but they are awaiting our proposals." He then added: "It’s nothing new for the Russian Federation to lend a helping hand to countries that are their friends." Cayetano also said the loan may be used not only for arms purchases but for acquiring modern equipment to help the Philippine police and military fight terrorists. "You know, they’re suffering… Sometimes, the [Islamist terrorist group] Abu Sayyaf have better equipment than they do,” he added.[6]

Commenting on the goals of the visit to Moscow, Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta said that the acquisition of weapons from Russia is different from forging a strategic defense alliance. Sorreta said: “The arms will be sold and they trust us to use it properly. I have always believed that our brave men and women in uniform should not be going into battle carrying arms attached to strings that run all the way to Washington.” The ambassador actually stressed that, unlike the U.S., Russia does not attach political conditions to the Philippines in the weapons' sale.[7]

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is expected to go to the Philippines next November to attend the ASEAN summit.

The following are excerpts from an article, titled "Rodrigo Duterte In Russia: Arms Deal On The Way?," by Valdai Club expert Viktor Sumsky, Director of the ASEAN Center at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Russian Foreign Ministry:[8]

Description: Putin Meeting with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Putin with Duterte (Source:

'Duterte's Visit Is A Necessary Prelude To Cooperation In The Field Of Defense'

"After the election in May 2016, the new president of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte announced, that his country would move away from a one-sided orientation toward the U.S., drawing closer ties with China and Russia. Russia, for its part, is interested to widen the number of real partners in Asia, which increases range of opportunities related to trade, economic, defense and investment cooperation, exchanges in education, science and culture. Over the past year, Russian-Philippine bilateral contacts have significantly increased in various areas, which did not happen before in the history of relations between the two countries.

"Naturally, the joint efforts to strengthen regional security in South-East Asia are not the last in the list of priorities. All these issues are on the agenda of the talks in Moscow between the presidents of Russia and the Philippines on May 23.

"The Philippine side has more than once explained that the future agreement on cooperation with Russia in the field of defense does not mean the establishment of a military alliance. From the technical point of view the military equipment of the Philippine army is rather obsolete. The Philippines stands behind most of its ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] partners – and this happened after decades of the military and political embrace from the United States.

"The Filipinos got from the former colonial power mostly morally obsolete and worn-out weapons. Against this background they showed interest to the less expensive but modern and reliable production of the Russian military-industrial complex - especially since many of the Russian weapons have been shipped to the ASEAN countries, that are partners of the Philippines - Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar.

"By the way, it is not the first time the Filipinos wish to buy Russian weapons: for example, this issue was raised during the official visit to Moscow in September 1997 by then-President Fidel Ramos, but at that time 'the stars did not converge.'

"Will the arms deal between the Philippines and Russia violate the military-political balance in South-East Asia? Hardly. The overall military supplies of Russia to the Southeast Asian countries over the past 20 years have not led to a similar result. Let no one be embarrassed that President Duterte arrives in Russia accompanied by a big group of military brass. Virtually none of these people (as, indeed, many other representatives of the administrative elite of the Philippines) had never been in Russia. All of them need to feel the country with which they are going to cooperate, to see it not through the prism of stereotypes, but with their own eyes. In this sense, Duterte's visit is a necessary prelude to cooperation in the field of defense.

"In addition to generals, the Philippine leader is accompanied by a representative delegation of local businessmen. The visit will be accompanied by a business forum, where the guests will meet with potential Russian partners to discuss the best forms of cooperation in energy, infrastructure and transport, agriculture, and tourism. It is hard to imagine that the presidents of Russia and the Philippines during their meeting on May 25 will not touch these issues, as well as regional security problem, without which the sustained growth of Asian economies is impossible.

"The whole world already knows that President Duterte has a ready tongue when someone comes to teach him how to rule a sovereign state, what needs to be done and what not to do. After a memorable episode with Barack Obama, there are no other people who want to "instruct" Rodrigo Duterte, and Donald Trump communicates with his Philippine colleague quite properly. If nothing extraordinary happens, these two leaders will find a common language, and the relations of the Philippines with the U.S. will develop in a proper way."

APPENDIX I – Senior Russian Officials Meet with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte[9]

"The talks were attended by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Presidential Aide Yury Ushakov and Economic Development Minister Maxim Oreshkin, as well as Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano, Secretary of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana and Special Assistant to the Philippine President Christopher Lawrence Go."

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: "Mr. President, I am happy to see you in Moscow. We met in Lima before and recently in Beijing. Last year, we marked 40 years of diplomatic relations between our countries.

"Regrettably, our trade has been modest, but it started growing early this year and has already increased by 25 percent. There are many promising areas of bilateral cooperation, such as power machine building, transport infrastructure, energy and possibly military technical cooperation.

"I would like to begin our meeting by expressing condolences on the loss of Filipino lives in a terrorist attack [in the southern island of Mindanao]. My colleagues and I understand that you need to get back home as soon as possible. I hope that the conflict you have mentioned will be settled without delay with minimal losses.

"You and I know that our staff and colleagues worked hard to prepare a package of documents. Your ministers will stay in Russia for a while, and I know that these documents aimed at promoting bilateral ties will be signed tomorrow.

"As you may know, I was not in Moscow but in one of Russia’s regions today. However, I certainly had to use this opportunity to meet with you personally and to thank you for accepting our invitation to visit Russia. I hope we will use the little time we have before your departure to have a personal discussion of bilateral relations and the situation in the region."

APPENDIX II – Russia's Foreign Minsiter Sergey Lavrov’s Opening Remarks At Talks With Philippine Secretary Of Foreign Affairs Alan Peter Cayetano[10]

Lavrov: "… As our presidents agreed, the documents which have been prepared for signing at their summit meeting must be signed. We can state with satisfaction today that the members of the Russian and Philippine governments have signed nine important documents. These include a defense cooperation agreement, memorandums on cooperation in nuclear energy, trade, investment, industry, transport, culture and arts, as well as an action program for cooperation in tourism and a plan of consultations between our foreign ministries, which you and I have signed. A number of vital documents are in the final stages of preparation, including on military technical cooperation and on interaction between our law enforcement agencies. We can say confidently that President Duterte’s visit to Russia has provided a powerful boost to the further development of our relations…

"I can assure you that President Rodrigo Duterte will always be welcome in Russia. I reaffirm our firm commitment to our agreements on building up cooperation in combatting terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime."

Appendix III – Russia-ASEAN Military and Military-Technical Cooperation[11]

Description: Russia-ASEAN military and military-technical cooperation


[1], May 27, 2017.

[2], May 26, 2017.

[3], May 22, 2017.

[4], May 22, 2017.

[5] The Philippine media explained that Duterte asked Putin for a soft loan to buy firearms as the Philippines' rifle deal with the U.S. had been cancelled. The reported that the U.S. State Department "halted the sale of some 26,000 rifles to the Philippine police last year after Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin had raised issues about the Duterte administration’s human rights record.", May 25, 2017.

[6], May 25, 2017.

[7], May 24, 2017.

[8], May 24, 2017.

[9], May 23, 2017.

[10], May 25, 2017

[11], May 6, 2016

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