MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte left Monday for a four-day official visit to Russia, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and witness the signing of several agreements, including on defense cooperation and trade.
In his departure speech, Duterte said the visit underscores his independent foreign policy and desire to forge closer ties with Russia, which "must cease to be on the margins of Philippine diplomacy."
"Overdependence on traditional partners has limited our room to maneuver in a very dynamic, international arena," he said. "This is a strategic oversight that has led to many missed opportunities for our country. I am determined to correct this."
Since taking office last June, Duterte has lashed out at then-President Barack Obama and his administration for criticizing his war on drugs, which has left thousands of suspected drug offenders dead. But he has been on friendlier terms with President Donald Trump.
Contrastingly, he has reached out to China and Russia — whose leaders he met recently — in a dramatic shift in foreign policy for the Philippines, Washington's longtime treaty ally.
"Russia is a country that we must work with — there are opportunities that cannot be ignored," Duterte said. "With its geographic footprint in the Asia-Pacific region and its strategic interest in the region, a positive engagement is required to find areas of synergies and interests."
Ties between the two countries were established 40 years ago, but Duterte said the doors of cooperation have opened "ever so slightly" and "now we can work together to open those doors even wider."
Legislators, Cabinet officials and business leaders are accompanying him on the trip.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad said Duterte will meet with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday and they will discuss economic partnership and other areas of cooperation. Duterte will discuss political, military and defense cooperation during his meeting with Putin on Thursday.
The trip is at the invitation of Putin, whom Duterte met in Peru in November on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific leaders' summit.
Duterte is also expected to deliver a policy speech at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, bring Filipino business leaders to the Philippine-Russia Business Forum and meet with the Filipino community in Russia.
In a sign of warming bilateral ties, the two countries will set up offices of their defense attaches in each other's capitals, Natividad said.
Agreements to be signed during the visit include those on defense cooperation, military and technical cooperation, a treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, an extradition treaty, and a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of security between the two countries' national security councils.