Russian ties with Manila at ‘historic high’

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Reuters/File)
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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.

Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir

Updated 8 min 9 sec ago

Parties, rights groups criticize crackdown in disputed Kashmir

  • New regulation, which allows non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, is seen as an attempt to dilute the Muslim-majority character of the region
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) on called raids on rights groups an attempt to ‘to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability’

NEW DELHI: Pro-India political parties in Kashmir on Friday accused New Delhi of “infringement” of their fundamental rights, days after the introduction of controversial land laws in the region.

The passage of the new regulation, under which non-Kashmiris can buy land in Kashmir, was immediately followed by counterterrorism raids on politicians and activists.

On Friday, the local administration prevented Farooq Abdullah, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and senior leader of the region’s oldest party, National Conference (NC), from offering prayers at Srinagar’s historic Hazratbal shrine on the occasion of Mawlid Al-Nabi, the observance of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

“J&K administration has blocked the residence of Party President Dr. Farooq Abdullah and stopped him from offering prayers at Dargah Hazratbal. The NC condemns this infringement of fundamental right to pray, especially on the auspicious occasion of Milad Un Nabi,” the NC said in a tweet.

Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti said that preventing Abdullah from offering prayers at the shrine “exposed” the Indian government’s “deep paranoia and their iron fist approach” toward Kashmir. 

“It’s a gross violation of our rights and is highly condemnable,” she tweeted.

On Thursday, the government sealed the PDP office.

The PDP accuses the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to “silence any voices that speak up” against its “unilateral actions” in Kashmir, PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar told Arab News.

“Dissent has been criminalized and voices muzzled as part of the project to take over whatever this state has, land and resources,” he said.

The closure of the PDP office followed Wednesday raids by the National Investigative Agency (NIA) on several NGOs which it accused of carrying out and raising funds for “secessionist and separatist activities” Kashmir.

Praveena Ahanger of the Srinagar-based Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), one of the seven NGOs that were raided by NIA, said it is a “clear case of a reprisal and crackdown on the human rights defenders in Kashmir.”

Zafarul Islam Khan, the former head of the Delhi Minority Commission, said that the premises of his NGO Charity Alliance in Delhi were also raided by NIA.

He said that according to the agency’s search order his group was “funding terror organizations in Kashmir.”

It is a “Himalayan lie,” he said. “They are trying to implicate me for my work in the Delhi Minority Commission and for my reports on Delhi religious violence in which the names of the ruling BJP leaders have cropped up.”

International human rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday called the raids an attempt “to silence peaceful dissenters, human rights activists, and journalists.”

“India faces serious security challenges, but instead of addressing the problems in a rights-respecting manner, the authorities appear determined to crush peaceful criticism and calls for accountability,” HRW South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.

Crackdowns on Kashmiri leaders and rights activists have escalated since August 2019 when New Delhi scrapped Articles 370 and 35A of the constitution, which gave Kashmiris limited autonomy and protected their domicile and employment rights. People in the region fear the new land laws are aimed at diluting the Muslim-majority character of the region.

“Land in Kashmir is the biggest resource which is now being offered to outsiders as part of demographic projects. The assault is on the Muslim majority character of the region. Everything else is a step to achieve that,” PDP’s Akhatar said.

Political experts say that altering the region’s demography was the main concept behind the revocation of Kashmir’s special status.

“The whole idea of revoking Article 370 was to alter the demography of Kashmir,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Srinagar-based Kashmir University said. “People are angry in Kashmir and it might spill over on the streets any day.”

 But Srinagar-based BJP leader Dr. Hina Bhat discounts the possibility.

“I don’t think people are angry. Those who are protesting have lost all credibility. The change in land law will not force people to sell their lands to outsiders,” she said.

Commenting on the killing of three BJP workers in Kulgam area of Kashmir on Thursday, Bhat said that “militants don’t want the region to progress.”

“The killings of our party men will not deter us from doing good work in Kashmir.”