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Russian interlude

WHY did the Russian ambassador skip lunch with journalists at the last minute? Why was he in a rush to be at the Department of Foreign Affairs?

Speculation ran high at the dining table. Did Ambassador Igor Khovaev’s urgent business at DFA have anything to do with getting work done for President Duterte to meet President Vladimir Putin in Moscow? When the envoy arrived at 1:30 p.m., he straightaway denied, in diplomatic language, that plans for a Duterte-Putin meeting were in the offing.

“I go there (DFA) regularly, that is my work.”

Regularly, yes, but not when he has to miss lunch, like today. He demurred, “There must be adequate preparations on both sides for such an important visit” and “we are now making efforts to identify the specific areas and fields” of cooperation. “We highly appreciate the strong desire of President Duterte to enhance bilateral cooperation,” be it trade or aid in energy, culture and the arts, science, defense.

A Russian visit might not be in the cards right now, but on Nov. 19-20, the two presidents will come face to face at the APEC conference in Peru. Before then, the envoy suggested that the Philippines “formulate your wish list.” No Russian roulette here. Manila sells more goods to Moscow than the other way around, and only 25,000 Russians toured the islands last year. “Come to Russia and discover us and for us to know each other better.” Time for Filipinos, he said, to discover a Russia different from Hollywood’s portrayal of his country and people.

And what has he discovered of the Philippines after one year and six months here? “You are such a smiling people, especially feminine smiles. I smile more often here than I do in Moscow. I have been infected by the smiles virus of the Philippines.”

Making friends is a smiling objective that Ambassador Khovaev understands: “I see an objective need of the Philippines to diversify its foreign policy. Russia is ready to become a new partner. Philippine-Russian ties should not impact your relations with other countries.” (Jullie Y. Daza)