THE ambassador of the Russian Federation Marat Pavlov paid a courtesy call on President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier this week, and reportedly made an offer to sell Russian oil and fuel products to the Philippines to address rising costs. President-elect Marcos should view this offer with a great deal of circumspection, as such trade would not contribute positively to either an “independent foreign policy” or a “peaceful end to the war in Ukraine,” both of which Marcos has called for.
Interestingly, the only word we have on the substance of the talks between the incoming president and the Russian envoy come from the ambassador, who told the media afterwards that, “In this turbulent period, we are ready to cooperate with the Filipino side and to extend our helping hand to satisfy the needs in source1s of energy.” Marat added that Russian President Vladimir Putin has also conveyed his congratulations for winning the election to the president-elect and that the two governments have agreed to discuss the matter of petroleum trade “a little bit further” in the coming days.
The Russian ambassador also added, somewhat paradoxically, “As far as I understand, the president-elect would like to continue his independent policy, and he will cooperate with the Russian Federation.”
In our view, an “independent foreign policy” is one that seeks productive interactions with other countries for the benefit of Filipino interests, and avoids such interactions that would constrain the country's other relationships, or put more simply, force it to “choose sides.” We believe that is the context in which President-elect Marcos also views the idea of an independent foreign policy, and we wholeheartedly support that.
However, any relationship with Russia at present is problematic, and should be approached with a great deal of caution. Russia has been subjected to severe sanctions, including and most especially on the export of its petroleum products, one of its biggest source1s of income, as a result of its unjustifiable destructive invasion and attempt to conquer Ukraine. Those sanctions are intended to put pressure on Moscow to end its aggression, and as such are part of the formula for the “peaceful end” to the war.
The Philippines does not and probably should not actively participate in sanctions that would cause problems for our own economy, as the first priority in foreign policy is the well-being of our own people. By the same token, the Philippines should avoid actions that may be seen as undermining the larger efforts to end the war, unless it is absolutely necessary to do so for the sake of Filipinos.
Buying Russian petroleum embargoed elsewhere would certainly be regarded as unhelpful by the country's much larger trade and exchange partners in Europe, the US, Japan and elsewhere.
Whether or not there would be negative repercussions for the Philippines in that instance is unknown, but there is no pressing need to take that risk and it should be avoided if possible.
The reality is that while prices of oil and its byproducts such as fuel and fertilizer are currently high, that is not really a function of supply but of other factors. There is no shortage of supply available to the Philippines from established source1s, and so it is not a necessity that the Philippines seek supply from Russia. As a matter of fact, due to supply chain restrictions — another consequence of the sanctions — petroleum from Russia may even prove to be more costly than from more accessible source1s.
President-elect Marcos should thank Russia for its kind offer, but diplomatically decline it. Russia and the Philippines have enjoyed good relations over the past several years, but the price of continuing those relations should not be to put the Philippines in a position where its other good relations may be tarnished. “Cooperation” with the Russian Federation should not mean aiding it in carrying on its war against another country with whom the Philippines has no conflict, which is essentially what buying Russian oil would mean. If that supply was critically needed by this country things might be different, but it is unnecessary. Thus, the potential pitfall is easily avoided, and should be.
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