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Special Features | World

Russian Ambassador to the PH: 'I smile much more often than I did in Moscow'

Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev smiles in a studio break during the interview with Reaksyon host Luchi Cruz-Valdes.
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev has been infected with a "virus of smiles". 

"I smile much more often than I did in Moscow," he said in a recent interview  with News5 chief Luchi Cruz-Valdes.

Khovaev was responding to a question about how Filipinos and Russians could forge a better relationship with one another.

"Russians and Filipinos, we have a lot in common," he replied. 

But there was one major difference, he said: "You Filipinos, you smile much more often than we do."

Russians, Khovaev said, keep their emotions bottled up. They need time to open up to others.

This is why he thanks his Filipino friends for infecting him with a virus of smiles. 

Finding each other

He acknowledged, however, that for the most part Filipinos and Russians apparently find each other an enigma. 

The Filipinos' perception of Russians was largely shaped by Hollywood movies, and, said Khovaev, "It's wrong, absolutely wrong."

Thus, it is vital to promote a "people-to-people" exchange. "It's time for Filipinos to discover Russia, and it's time for Russians to discover the Philippines," he said.

He advised the government to be more aggressive in promoting the country as a tourist destination to Russians, noting a lack of awareness of the Southeast Asian nation. Meanwhile, neighboring Thailand gets one million Russian visitors a year.

"Everyone in Russia knows Thailand as a very popular, wonderful tourist destination. But last year only 20,000 Russian tourists visited your country... It's unbelievable!" Khovaev exclaimed. "You should promote your positive, very attractive image as tourist destination. Definitely."

Indeed, tourism could contribute much to the mutual trust, understanding, and sympathy between the two countries - something much needed, as a December 2016 Pulse Asia survey showed that only 38 percent of the Filipino respondents trust Russia, while 58 percent said they distrusted it.

At the same time, President Rodrigo Duterte himself has on several occasions expressed his inclination for Russia and China, distancing himself from the country's longtime ally, the United States.

And this did not go unnoticed with the Russian diplomat.

Asked if he found the Duterte administration more welcoming than that of previous Philippine presidents, Khovaev said, "I agree, I agree." 

"We welcome President Duterte. We consider President Duterte as our friend," the Ambassador added.

Asked how Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to Duterte's professed admiration of him, Khovaev said he had not yet had the opportunity to ask, but given that Putin was a Russian man, "He doesn't smile very often." 

During his bilateral meeting with Duterte in November 2016 during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Peru, however, "he smiled". Putin also personally invited Duterte to Russia.

Khovaev believes that the Philippines' foreign policy must diversify, by getting new friends while preserving traditional partners.

He said that Russia and Putin respect the Philippines' interests, including who its traditional partners were, because these are the choices of Filipinos. 

For its part, Russia is "interested to develop long-term cooperation."

And, Khovaev added, "believe me please, we Russians, we have no hidden agenda. If we want this or that, we say it frankly, openly."

Oil and gas, nuke technology, space

He said Russia is ready to export not just oil and gas products, but nuclear technology as well. It is also open to collaboration on the space industry. 

In fact, the Philippines-Russia Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation (JCTEC) had been established in November 2015, as a way to enhance trade, investments and economic cooperation. Its inaugural session was scheduled for the first half of 2017, ahead of President Duterte's visit to Moscow.

"Our two countries need and deserve to know each other much, much more," Khovaev said, adding that the Philippines could benefit from the modernization of its transport infrastructure - railway systems, seaports, and airports included.

"We are ready to share our technologies," he said.

He stressed that Russia did not seek a military alliance with the Philippines - or any country, for that matter. This is because a closed alliance could only provide security for its members, and not for the countries outside these unions. 

Asked for Russia's opinion on the dispute on the West Philippine Sea, Khovaev said that they did not take sides in such disputes. What they support are peaceful solutions, including negotiations and compliance with the international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).