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PH pivot to Russia advances with port visit, submarine talks

Carmela Fonbuena
PH pivot to Russia advances with port visit, submarine talks
The Philippine Navy may have its first submarine by 2023 – if the timeline of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana pushes through

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Navy plans to make a port call in Russia this year, the latest sign that President Rodrigo Duterte’s push to warm ties with Moscow is serious.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the country is also looking at finalizing within the next 12 months talks to acquire 2 submarines from Russia. This is on top of an ongoing negotiation for grenade launchers, the first military acquisition from Russia should it push through.

Gantihan. Nag-visit din sila sa atin ilang beses na. (We are returning the gesture. They’ve visited the country several times),” Lorenzana told the Defense Press Corps on Thursday, August 9. 

The Philippine ships will be docking at Vladivostok, the nearest Russian port from the Philippines which is located west of Japan, according to the defense chief.

The planned port visit comes after high-level meetings between security officials of the two countries in May and July.

In May 2018, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr flew to Russia for bilateral meetings aimed at deepening security relations with Russia.

This was followed by the July 2018 visit of Philippine Navy chief Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad to St. Petersburg for the Russian Navy Day celebration. He met his counterpart, Admiral Vladimir Ivanovich Koralev.

PH Navy submarine in 5 years?

The Philippines has been discussing the possible acquisition of submarines with several countries including South Korea and France.

But Lorenzana said the deal will “more likely” push through with Russia. 

“Russia is willing to sell us their Kilo class. Kapag napirmahan ‘yan, it will take them 4 years to make so ang delivery tapos na ang term ni Presidente (After signing, it will take them 4 years to make. The delivery will happen after the term of the President),” said Lorenzana. 

Kung wala tayong pera, pahihiramin tayo ng Russia (Russia will loan it to us if we don’t have money),” said Lorenzana.

For smaller vessels such as off-shore patrol ships, Lorenzana said the navy will tap local builders. The navy is looking at acquiring 6 of these from Cebu-based company Austal, a subsidiary of an Australian shipbuilding firm. 


High level meetings

Duterte pushed to grow ties with China and Russia in his bid to pivot from the country’s longest ally, the United States.

While Duterte told former US President Barack Obama to “go to hell,” he looks to Chinese President Xi Jinping as his protector and has called Russian President Vladimir Putin his “idol.”

Previous threats to scrap treaties with the US have been withdrawn and Duterte established rapport with President Donald Trump. Still, the aggressive push toward growing ties with Beijing and Moscow continued.

Russian ships have been occasionally docking in the Philippines, but it was under Duterte that that the Russian Navy made its first goodwill visits in 2016, capped by meetings with Philippine counterparts. 

Duterte flew to Russia for an official visit a year later, in May 2017, but it was cut short when he rushed home because of the Marawi siege.

During Empedrad’s visit to St. Petersburg last July, he signed a draft memorandum of understanding on cooperation with his Russian counterpart.

The two navies are also looking at regular visits of ships and joint disaster response training, said Navy spokesman Commander Jonathan Zata said in a July statement. 

Lorenzana said deeper security ties with many countries are being pursued. There are plans to forge visiting forces agreements with Malaysia and Indonesia, two neighboring countries helping the country fight terrorism in the region. – Rappler.com

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