The Russian government on Tuesday sought to distance itself from the looming termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a key defence pact between the Philippines and the US.
It said its ambassador’s visit to the highest-ranking military officer of the Philippine government was in connection with previous discussions between Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin for bilateral cooperation that included military ties.
Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev on Monday paid a courtesy call on recently-appointed Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Felimon Santos Jr in a visit that the Russian Embassy, via a Facebook post, said was “focused on the development of military-technical cooperation” between the Philippines and Russia.
However, Russian Embassy press secretary Natalia Linovitskaya said the visit is not related to Duterte’s push to junk the VFA between the Philippines and the US.
She said the courtesy call by Khovaev on Santos “has nothing to do with the known recent event in US-Philippine cooperation.
“We are just doing our work on the way to develop bilateral cooperation between our nations, including military cooperation,” Linovitskaya said in an embassy statement.
Khovaev’s visit to Santos at the AFP headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo came a few days after the AFP started to gear up for the termination of the VFA, which several senators are contesting.
Linovitskaya said the visit was only part of the implementation of agreements reached last year when Duterte visited Russia and met Putin.
“Current status and prospects of the Russian-Philippines military cooperation were among the issues discussed during the bilateral meeting of President Putin and President Duterte last October. Now we are just implementing the agreements reached last year.
“Russia and the Philippines have their own, absolutely independent course in the bilateral cooperation in military and military-technical spheres. We never depended on the third party,” she said.
Last week, Duterte ordered the sending of the notice of termination of the VFA to the US Embassy in Manila. It was expected to take effect after 180 days.
The VFA, ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, governs the conduct of visiting US soldiers and serves as the foundation for military exercises and humanitarian work.
Critics said the move was just part of Duterte’s original plan to pivot to China and Russia as he had been promising since 2016.
PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK