Russian ties with Manila at ‘historic high’

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Reuters/File)
Short Url
Updated 18 October 2020

Russian ties with Manila at ‘historic high’

  • Khovaev has been the longest-serving Russian envoy to Manila since assuming office in 2015

MANILA: Moscow’s Ambassador to Manila Igor Khovaev says that relations between the countries are at the “highest level in history” and gave credit to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte for the improvement in diplomatic ties with Russia, particularly in the area of defense.

“I believe that we have all reasons to say that our bilateral relations are at the highest level in our history. Of course, after the election of ... President (Rodrigo) Duterte, absolutely new horizons (were) opened up,” Khovaev told Arab News.

“We highly appreciate an independent foreign policy pursued by President Duterte, and we understand that the diversification of the external ties of your country means keeping old friends and partners and getting the new ones.”

Khovaev added that Russia has always been clear that it is “ready to be a new reliable partner and a new good friend for the Philippines with no damage to (its) traditionally close relationships with other countries.”

Khovaev has been the longest-serving Russian envoy to Manila since assuming office in 2015.

As he nears the end of his tour of duty in Manila, he highlighted some of the major developments in bilateral ties between the Philippines and Russia.

“I arrived in Manila in April 2015. At that time, you had President (Benigno) Aquino. At that time, I couldn’t even imagine that it would be possible even to discuss possibilities for our bilateral defense and security cooperation,” he said.

However, with Duterte’s “independent foreign policy thrust,” he said, the bilateral engagement between the Philippines and Russia had “broadened,” resulting in the establishment of confidence-building activities between the two nations’ defense sector.

He said that the Philippines’ old and long-time allies “have no right to be jealous” or “to put any obstacles” in the way of bilateral cooperation.

Khovaev reiterated that under the present defense partnership, Russia was ready to supply the Philippines with sophisticated arms and weapons.

“We never offer secondhand arms and weapons. The same arms and weapons the Russian armed forces are using. Because we respect our partners,” he said.

Khovaev also cited a verbal agreement between the two countries on the acquisition of helicopters, without divulging any other details as “this cooperation requires a certain degree of confidentiality.”

“Many things are under consideration . . . but, everything is being done in the spirit of partnership and mutual trust. Because it’s not just a trading deal, we want to build a long-term partnership between our two countries,” the ambassador said.

“So, no political linkages, and no political meddling . . . we are ready to discuss any option of our cooperation.”

Khovaev added that another idea worth exploring was joint military exercises, which were “very possible.”

“We are ready to discuss it after the pandemic,” he said.

As a stepping stone for that initiative, officers from the Presidential Security Group (PSG) have already visited Russia for joint training sessions with their Russian colleagues.

“They shared their best practices with their Philippine counterparts. And I think it’s important for your country because the world is diversified . . . And it’s just pragmatic to use the best experience, the best practices of different countries in your own interest,” he said.

“We are ready to share our experience in defense building practices. We are ready to discuss anything you Filipinos want to help your country to increase your defense capabilities. I’m saying again, without any political linkage,” he said.

In the fight against terrorism, Khovaev said that Russia was open to an exchange of information, adding that the Philippines’ intelligence service had access to the Russian bank of information on terrorist organizations.

“Many things have been discussed during the consultations between the Russian security council and the Philippine National Security Council. This mechanism of consultations will be resumed after the pandemic. So, we have good channels for cooperation and dialogue,” he said.

Khovaev thanked the Philippines president for the positive momentum of ties capped by “unprecedented” multiple meetings between Duterte and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Wednesday, Duterte hailed Khovaev for his contribution in deepening defense ties when the envoy met the president for a farewell in Malacanang.

Duterte lauded Khovaev for his crucial role in redefining and reinvigorating Philippines-Russia relations.

“Key agreements were signed and consultative mechanisms established, particularly in the areas of defense and security, trade and economic cooperation, science and technology, and health,” Malacanang said in a statement.

Duterte noted Khovaev’s role in facilitating confidence-building measures and conferred him with the Order of Sikatuna, with the rank of Datu (Grand Cross), gold distinction.


Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

Updated 29 November 2020

Exposed: UK Daesh cell fundraising for jailed jihadi brides

  • Fake donation by undercover reporters reveals sophisticated terror network

LONDON: A Daesh fundraising operation based in the UK seeking to free Western jihadi brides from Syrian refugee camps has been exposed by the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Undercover journalists spoke with a “fixer” in Turkey before exposing a “courier” in London collecting what he thought was a £4,500 ($5,987) donation to the operation.
But the brown envelope hidden at the “dead drop” by undercover journalists contained only a crossword book. In response to the revelations, London’s Metropolitan Police have opened an investigation.
The Syrian camps targeted by the operation for escape bids include Al-Hol, where Shamima Begum, who fled Britain aged 15 to join Daesh, was held.
A report last week revealed the existence of an Instagram group called Caged Pearls, run by British women detained in Al-Hol who are raising money to finance their escape from the camps.
The page promotes awareness of its mission through a poster reading: “Al-Hol — The cradle of the new Caliphate.”
One woman raising funds in the camp was named as “Sumaya Holmes,” who had been smuggled out of the camp and traveled to Turkey.
Holmes is said to be the widow of a British Daesh fighter who died in Syria, and the current wife of a Bosnian extremist serving jail time in his home country.
Holmes asks for donations on her Facebook page and posts pictures of women holding up posters begging for help.
One poster said: “I am a sister from camp Al-Hol and I need $6,000 so that I can escape from PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Please, I ask everyone to help me and donate as much as they can.”
Holmes captioned the image: “This is my friend and she is in need of help. She sent me this photo yesterday. Please, even if you can’t help, pass it to those who can donate to her.”
Another image posted by Holmes shows a woman holding a piece of paper that says: “I am your Muslim sister in Al-Hol camp. I need help from my brothers and sisters to be freed from the hands of the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces). I need $7,000 to be able to get out with my children.” The message added: “You can trust Sumaya Holmes on Facebook, she is trying to help me raise money needed.”
A Mail on Sunday reporter posed as a drug dealer who had converted to Islam. They messaged Holmes on Facebook to offer support and money.
Holmes then requested to communicate on Telegram, an encrypted messaging app favored by extremists and criminals for its high levels of security and privacy.
She asked for a Bitcoin donation but the undercover reporter declined. She then suggested making a bank deposit in an associate’s account in Jordan, and then hawala, an Islamic method of transferring money that uses a broker system. But the undercover journalist declined again.
Holmes finally provided details of a man called “Anas” in London who could collect funds in person. When an offer to donate was made, Holmes accepted.
In the meantime, she had been actively posting her support for Daesh on Facebook. In one post, she described the Chechen who beheaded teacher Samuel Paty last month as a “hero.”
In London, a second undercover reporter set up a meeting with “Anas” to deliver cash for the operation.
But the reporter changed the plan and left an envelope containing only a crossword book at the agreed-upon location.
As the journalists watched carefully, a man wearing a white crash helmet soon arrived on a scooter.
He found the package and messaged the reporter: “File received, let me check the money and tell you.”
He soon discovered the ruse, telling the undercover reporter: “There are no money in the envelope, there is only a book? It seems that you are not serious about your subject.”
When confronted again, “Anas” denied any involvement in the exchange, which would be illegal under British law had the envelope contained cash. “No, no, I don’t take anything, you are wrong,” he said.
Later, Holmes also denied her involvement. “That’s not true, good luck with publishing your lies,” she said.
The latest estimates suggest that about 300 of the 900 Britons who traveled to Syria to join Daesh are back on British streets.
Dr. Vera Mironova, a Daesh expert and research fellow at Harvard University, said: “To escape from the camps costs about $18,000 and the success of these campaigns shows the sheer amount Daesh are able to raise online.”
She added: “Once the women are smuggled out, it is impossible to monitor them. The women who collect money online are still with Daesh and are trusted and supported by members worldwide. They work with a network of supporters globally.”