From the Philippine Star (Aug 19): Philippines caught in US-Russia tug-of-war over submarines
The Philippines appears to be caught between the United States and Russia over the plan of the Duterte administration to purchase big-ticket military equipment, including a submarine, from Moscow.
On their respective social media accounts, both the US and Russian embassies in Manila have reaffirmed their partnership and strong commitment to work with the Philippines.
“As we celebrate the special partnership between our two countries, I would like to say maraming salamat to all for your warm friendship and generosity,” said US Ambassador Sung Kim in a video message released on Friday.
“Already a year and a half into my tenure, I’m still excited and grateful serving as the US ambassador in this amazing country. This is a truly great relationship for both countries. Friends, partners, allies forever,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Russian embassy commented on the supposed interference of an unidentified party on the strengthening partnership of Russia and the Philippines.
“Hope nobody will interfere,” the embassy tweeted as reaction to The STAR article on a Philippine Navy ship’s planned port call in Moscow.
In another tweet, the Russian embassy denounced what it dubbed as “unfair competition and blackmailing” directed at the Philippines over discussions of military cooperation between the two countries.
“Let’s be honest: recent speculations to disrupt Russia-Philippine military and technical cooperation is just unfair competition and blackmailing prior to our negotiations at the @ForumArmy2018 in Russia,” it said.
The embassy is referring to next week’s International Military-Technical Forum in Moscow, which it appears would be attended by a Philippine delegation.
While no party was identified in the tweet, the message seems to be directed at the US government, which earlier warned the Philippines of implications should it proceed with the purchase of military equipment from Russia.
While in Manila this week, US Defense Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver told reporters that a deal between Manila and Moscow would be unhealthy for the US-Philippine relationship.
“I think they should think very carefully about that,” he said. “If they would have (to) proceed with procurement major Russian equipment, I don’t think that’s a helpful thing to do in the alliance.”
President Duterte and the Russian government both rebuked Schriver for his statement.
“You state your case why you are against my country buying Russian submarines… give me the reason why and make it public. You want us to remain backward?” Duterte told the US in a speech on Friday. “We are the only ones who have none, yet you don’t give us any (submarine).”
Moscow, meanwhile, said Schriver should refrain from making such comments.
“We cannot recall when Mr. Randall Schriver was hired as advisor to the government of the Philippines. Nevertheless the defense cooperation between Russia and the Philippines is a matter of bilateral relations and does not involve any third country in any way,” the Russian government said in a statement released by its embassy.
“We believe it meets strategic interests of the Philippine nation and will definitely contribute to the regional peace and stability,” it said.
Defense spokesman Arsenio Andolong said the Philippine government is acquiring military equipment from any country where it will be beneficial and advantageous to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
“While our acquisition of submarines (from Russia) for the Philippines is still under study and nothing is final at this point, we emphasize that the defense department will procure equipment that is most advantageous for the AFP through the AFP Modernization Program,” he said.
Ties remain strong
On the other hand, a top defense blogger said the relations between the US and the Philippines will remain strong despite plans to buy military hardware from a third party.
Max Defense pointed out the Americans have no choice but to accept the fact that they’re not helping much in modernizing the Philippine military as their Congress are known for blocking military sales even to allies.
“Once the Russia submarines are already with the Philippines, the US has no choice to accept the reality,” Max Defense said.
While the decision to buy Russian submarines may not be strong reason to degrade the 1951 Phl-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) as well as other defense agreements, the US has the option to impose the sanctions such as Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) against the Philippines.
CAATSA is a State Department policy that can be imposed on US companies to limit, if not totally cancel its dealings to a country or those that are investing and contributing to the economy of a particular country.
Those who opposed the procurement of submarines from Russia pointed out that operating systems of the eastern military bloc are not compatible with the Philippine military, a NATO-bloc user.
An official said if the Philippine government proceeds to buy Kilo-Class submarines from Russia, it also needs to spend billions to reconfigure the operating systems of the Philippine Navy (PN), as well as that of the Philippine Air Force (PAF).
“This will have a direct impact in our ongoing efforts to establish an efficient interconnectivity systems between all operating units of the three major services. A Kilo-Class submarine cannot communicate with its surface counterparts in the Navy because of systems incompatibility,” one officer stressed.
Those in favor said the Navy can always install an independent communication systems on the two submarines, pointing out that no other countries in the Western bloc can match the soft loan being offered by Russia to bankroll the defense submarine acquisition project.
“Interconnectivity? That can be fixed. What is important here is we must have that submarine first, rather than getting none. Anyway, our military, for now, is not yet fully integrated in terms of real time interconnectivity,” another official said.