MANILA — An ambassador of Moscow said on Monday its bilateral cooperation with Manila could grow thanks to the "wise" decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to remain neutral on Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Duterte last week said the Philippines would maintain neutrality, following a Filipino ambassador's remark that the country was open to offering its facilities to the United States, a Ukraine ally, in case the war spilled over to Asia.
"I am sure that it is a very balanced, very wise position," Russian Ambassador to the Philippines Marat Pavlov said of Duterte's stand.
Pavlov said trade between Russia and the Philippines peaked at around $1.2 billion in 2019 and declined to about $862 million the next year.
"The challenges of today present opportunities for further cooperation, our bilateral trade for economic relations have great potential for further development," the ambassador said during the Kamuning Pandesal Forum.
He added Russian companies were "interested in developing cooperation with Filipino counterparts in the field of energy, oil and gas exploration, and modernizing power plants."
"A very promising area of cooperation is nuclear energy for peaceful purpose," he said.
Duterte recently approved the inclusion of nuclear power in the country's energy mix.
Prior to his latest statement on Ukraine, the Philippines condemned its invasion and "strongly urge(d) the cessation of hostilities", in a statement delivered at the United Nations General Assembly's emergency special session.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 24 sent thousands of Russian troops to "demilitarize and de-nazify" Ukraine.
But the toll on the country's civilians has been heavy. Around 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes, roughly one-third going abroad, the United Nations refugee agency said.
They are fleeing fighting that, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has left around 14,000 Russian servicemen dead, a number that "will only continue to rise".
Russia has provided no death toll since early March, when it said nearly 500 servicemen had been killed. Ukrainian officials said on March 12 that some 1,300 Ukrainian troops had died.
Ukraine has not been providing a civilian toll, except for children, saying at least 115 have now perished.
The war has sparked turmoil for an already vulnerable world economy and unleashed a wave of Western sanctions against Putin, his entourage and Russian companies.
Russia is a major exporter of oil, gas and commodities, while Ukraine is a major supplier of wheat.
— With a report from Agence France-Presse