Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow. Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP, File
MANILA, Philippines - It was a meeting that nearly didn’t materialize. But Russian President Vladimir Putin quickly adjusted his schedule to talk with President Duterte Tuesday night in Moscow.
Just hours after arriving in the Russian capital, Duterte had aborted his four-day official visit after the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups laid siege to Marawi City.
After signing his proclamation of martial law in Mindanao, Duterte prepared for his return flight, ready to forgo a meeting with his “idol” Putin that was originally scheduled for today.
But Putin found time for his guest and the meeting pushed through, even if “it was hello and goodbye,” Duterte said at a press conference upon his arrival yesterday at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
He said he thanked Putin for the meeting wherein they had fruitful discussions on economic and security assistance.
“We had about an hour and a half. We discussed everything. I said, I come here not really to ask for anything, but I ask that we be friends and allow me to do trade and commerce via your country, in the eastern side of Europe,” Duterte said.
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Asked for details of the meeting, he replied, “I am not in a position to divulge anything. Let me just use the words ‘very productive.’ With me were the secretaries of foreign affairs and defense. And it was good.”
While he had to rush back to Manila, Duterte said he was happy that Putin accommodated him ahead of their scheduled bilateral meeting.
“President Putin was very liberal. But I’m also sad because our countrymen are suffering in Mindanao right now,” he said at the start of his speech.
He expressed appreciation for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to him and his entire delegation for their flexibility and understanding.
“Russia is a true friend. While I have to immediately return to the Philippines, I have instructed the secretary of foreign affairs to remain and meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss how to strengthen bilateral relations and to sign some agreements that have been already concluded,” Duterte said.
The other secretaries of relevant economic agencies left behind would pursue arrangements that can best advance the Philippines’ shared interests through increased economic cooperation and enhanced cultural and people-to-people exchanges, the President said.
Putin condoles with Marawi victims
Putin condoled with the victims of the violence in Marawi.
“ISIS occupied a few provinces in the Philippines, there is fighting going on and I have to go home and I should be there tonight. It’s an urgent matter,” Duterte told Putin in the Kremlin Tuesday night (early Wednesday morning, Philippine time).
Putin said he was hopeful that the incident in Marawi would be resolved soon.
“I have to express our condolences (for the) loss of lives of your people (that) happened because of a horrible terrorist attack. And my colleagues and myself definitely understand quite well that you do have to return to your motherland,” the Russian president said through an interpreter.
Tired of trips
Following his whirlwind trip to Moscow, Duterte said he is tired of leaving the country and his working trip to attend an international forum in Japan next week might just be his last.
The President expressed exasperation over the long-haul travels he had to endure whenever he is on official trips abroad.
Arriving from Russia after more than 10 hours of air travel, Duterte said he would not cancel his scheduled speech at the closing conference of the two-day 23rd International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo from June 6 to 7.
As this developed, Duterte added he will follow up agreements related to trade and commerce if a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will push through on the sidelines of the conference.