Philippines steps up military cooperation with Russia

Philippine Marines from the Special Warfare Group . (File/Reuters)
Updated 05 April 2019

Philippines steps up military cooperation with Russia

MANILA: The Philippines has stepped up its military relations with Russia as part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “friend to all, enemy to no one” approach to foreign policy.

And Manila has also been buying in Israeli defense technology and equipment to help combat the scourge of terrorism in the country.

Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong told Arab News on Friday that recent moves to strengthen international defense and security cooperation with non-traditional allies did not mean that the Philippines would be dumping its main long-term partner the US.

However, on Monday three Russian warships are due to dock in Manila for a four-day friendly visit in the latest round of joint military cooperation activities.

Moscow is keen to help with the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ defense modernization program, and only last week Russian ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Khovaev, warned against existing allies imposing sanctions on Manila for any future arms agreements it might reach with Russia.

Andolong stressed his country would not be turning its back on “big brother” America, but said: “Before, we didn’t even dream of talking to the Russians. Now we are engaging with them along with other nations that are not our traditional allies.

“We realized that Russia is a major strategic player in geopolitics. It will do no harm if we are on good terms with them. With the dynamics of global security, someday, somewhere down the road, we may require their (Russia’s) assistance. It’s always good to be in constant touch.” He added that the same applied to his country’s relations with China.

Noting that the Philippines already had long-standing ties with Israel, Andolong said that “for the first time, we are already actively acquiring technology and equipment from them (the Israelis) and learning best practices when it comes to countering terrorism.”

The spokesman added: “I think it’s good for our defense establishment to take stock of how the global community is growing in terms of defense. By opening (our doors), we are able to develop a better understanding of our friends overseas.”

Prior to Duterte’s presidency, the Philippines had never cooperated with Russia. “The most we ever did was exchange personnel. Now we are sending, or we have sent, troops to participate in certain events in Russia, and we are already engaging with their Ministry of Defense on a regular basis.”

In November last year, a plan mapping out joint military activities between the Philippines and Russia was finalized in Moscow. It includes high-level exchanges, port visits of navy vessels, conferences, staff and security consultations, reciprocal visits of delegations and observers for military training exercises, and education and training exchanges.

The Philippines’ warship BRP Tarlac made a historic trip to the Pacific port city of Vladivostok last year and Russian Navy vessels now make regular visits to the Philippines. The latest will be on Monday when three Russian warships are scheduled to arrive in Manila for a four-day friendly visit. Their visit coincides with the annual US-Philippines Balikatan military exercises taking place in various parts of Luzon island.

“Admittedly, it raises eyebrows on both sides,” said Andolong. “However, it’s consistent with (the president’s) ‘friends to all and enemy to no one’ policy. It’s a friendly port call, I see no issue. They’re not going to engage in any military operations.”

Russia has expressed interest in participating in the Philippine military’s modernization program, which includes a helicopter project and planned submarine acquisition.

Admiral Valdimir Korolyov, chief of the Russian Navy, visited the Philippines last month to meet defense officials, and in 2017 Duterte received a donation of assault rifles, ammunition, military trucks and steel helmets from Russia.

Last week ambassador Khovaev said Russia attached great importance to its relations with the Philippines in the field of security and defense as both countries faced common enemies, particularly terrorism.

“It’s in our national interest to help the Philippines increase their defense and security capabilities in the legitimate struggle against terrorism... We are ready to share our experience. We fully support your struggle against terrorism, against drug trafficking, piracy at sea, and so many other evils,” the envoy said.

On promoting military relations between Moscow and Manila, Khovaev said all options were open, including the supply of sophisticated arms and equipment, and the transfer of technologies to help the Philippines develop its defense industry.

Khovaev stressed that it was not in Russia’s interests to damage the Philippines’ traditional relationships with other countries. “In our view, diversification means keeping old traditional allies and partners, and getting new ones. That’s why any attempt to influence our bilateral relationships by using sanctions or any other methods and ways is, for us, absolutely unacceptable.

“Nobody has a right to teach us how we should live, how we should develop our relationship, our cooperation. That is why sanctions imposed by your traditional allies on Russia must not have any impact on Russian-Philippines cooperation,” said Khovaev.

International security expert Stephen Cutler, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent, said he did not see a problem with the growing military cooperation between the two countries.

“I don’t think that the United States ought to (impose sanctions on the Philippines), in the same way that the United States doesn’t impose sanctions on Malaysia, Indonesia, India just because they have Russian stuff. Compete with them and make a good deal,” he said.

But Cutler suggested Manila should be careful with its Russian dealings. “Don’t deal with the Russians to spite the United States. Do it because it makes sense, from your supply chain and your strategic national security goals and objectives.”

He said when dealing with any country, the Philippines should be “eyes open, mind open” and put its own interests first.

Albert Del Rosario, former Philippines secretary of foreign affairs, said: “On the supply of arms and equipment, of great significance is the element of interoperability which should be as much as possible closely factored with one’s treaty ally.”


Kabul begins freeing Taliban

Newly freed Taliban prisoners walk at Pul-e-Charkhi prison, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 13, 2020. Picture taken August 13, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2020

Kabul begins freeing Taliban

  • Release of final 400 inmates was approved by traditional Afghan grand assembly

KABUL: After months of delay, Afghanistan’s government has started releasing the last 400 Taliban inmates in its custody, clearing the way for long-awaited peace talks, officials confirmed on Friday.

Eighty of the 400 were set free on Thursday and, according to the government, more will be freed in the coming days. The release was a condition to begin intra-Afghan negotiations to end 19 years of conflict in the war-torn country. The talks, already delayed twice, are expected to take place in Qatar once the release process is complete.
“The release was to speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide cease-fire,” the Afghan National Security Council said in a statement accompanied by video footage showing former Taliban inmates calling on insurgent leaders and the government to engage in peace talks.
The prisoner release follows an agreement signed by the US and the Taliban in Qatar in February that stipulated the exchange of prisoners between President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the militants, who have gained ground in recent years.
The process, involving 5,000 Taliban detainees held by Kabul and 1,000 security forces imprisoned by the militants, was slated to begin in early March and should have been followed by an intra-Afghan dialogue.
Ghani, initially resistant to the idea of freeing the Taliban inmates, began to release them under US pressure. Some 4,600 Taliban inmates were freed over the few past months, but Ghani refused to free the remaining 400, arguing they were behind major deadly attacks and that setting them free was outside his authority.
Faced by mounting pressure, after Eid Al-Adha holidays two weeks ago, the president vowed to summon a traditional grand assembly, the Loya Jirga, to help him decide if the remaining Taliban inmates should be freed or not.

FASTFACT

Footage showing men in uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban members went viral on social media this week, raising concerns that violence between security forces and the militants may impede the peace process despite the prisoner release.

Last week, the assembly approved the release, which is now underway and expected to be followed by the peace talks, in accordance with the US-Taliban deal.
The process, however, coincides with a spike in violence in the country and mutual accusations of an increase in assaults by the Taliban and Afghan government forces.
On Thursday, the Defense Ministry said it was probing a video circulating on social media showing men in army uniforms mutilating the bodies of purported Taliban fighters.
The UN requested that the incident be investigated. It remains unclear when and where it took place.
The Taliban, in a statement, said the bodies of their fighters were mutilated in the Arghandab district of the Zabul province.
Concerns are rising that similar acts of violence will further delay the peace process.
“Let us hope that this video does not become part of revenge-taking between the two sides and affect the process of peace. It is really unfortunate,” analyst Shafiq Haqpal told Arab News.
“As the violence continues, we see more brutal and shocking tactics from the sides and examples of revenge-taking, and that is very worrying and impacts any trust in a peace process,” Shaharzad Akbar, the chief of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said in a Twitter post on Thursday.
“It is on the leadership of the two sides to have clear messages to their fighters to avoid war crimes and actions that further the instinct for revenge that will make the reconciliation that should come out of a peace process difficult,” she added.

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