US downplays Phl defense cooperation with Russia

By Jose Katigbak, STAR Washington bureau
US downplays Phl defense cooperation with Russia

WASHINGTON – Any bilateral defense ties between the Philippines and Russia will not affect how the United States views the importance of its bilateral relationship with the Philippines, a long time ally, State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

He said the defense relationship between the United States and the Philippines remains “very, very strong.”

“Our overall mil-to-mil relations remain robust, they remain multifaceted and that’s the way we want to see it continue,” Kirby added.

In recent months President Duterte, seething at the outgoing Obama administration’s criticism of extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs, has been moving to lessen the country’s foreign military dependence on the United States and veering toward Russia and China.

“I’d let the Philippine government and the Russian government speak to the degree of their bilateral defense relations and how that is taking shape. I’ve said many times – and this is a good example of it – that foreign relations aren’t binary. Right? And these choices that countries have to make are not binary choices, and every nation-state has the right to pursue bilateral relations of its own choosing,” Kirby said in a press briefing.

“And so again, I would leave it to both of their governments to discuss it. What it – what I can promise you is that it won’t affect how we view the importance of our bilateral relationship with the Philippines,” he said.

Russian anti-submarine ship Admiral Tributs and tanker Boris Butoma made port call at the Manila South Harbor.

In September, Duterte announced that he would establish alliances with China and Russia as part of his independent foreign policy.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Philippines and Russia have agreed to speed up work on a legal framework and plan of action for cooperative activities aimed at enhancing Philippines-Russia defense engagement.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana visited Moscow last month and discussed with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov expanding Philippines-Russia defense cooperation.

The visit was a first for a Philippine defense chief since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries 40 years ago. It also came on the heels of a meeting between President Duterte and President Vladimir Putin in Lima, Peru last Nov. 19. – With Pia Lee-Brago