Moscow has told the Philippine government that it should honour a $215m deal to buy 16 Russian military helicopters, which the country’s former President Rodrigo Duterte cancelled due to fears of possible US sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Russian ambassador Marat Pavlov told reporters in Manila on Wednesday night that the Philippine government had not yet officially notified Moscow of its decision to cancel the purchase agreement, and a Russian company would continue to manufacture the Mi-17 helicopters that had been ordered.
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The Philippine government made an initial payment and Filipino helicopter pilots had undergone Russian training, the ambassador said, adding that one of the completed Mi-17s had been ready for delivery since June.
“But, unfortunately, it was not accepted by your government,” the ambassador told reporters.
“We are ready to fulfil all our obligations as a reliable partner of the Philippine side in the field of technical military cooperation and we consider that it will also be done by the Philippines,” Pavlov said.
“The down payment was made for the start of the assembly operation, so we continue to assemble [the helicopters]. Because we received the amount of the money, therefore fulfilling all the contractual obligation,” the ambassador added, according to local media organisation GMA News.
“This is a very important issue of our bilateral relations,” he said.
There was no immediate comment from the Philippine government, now led by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
The decision to cancel the contract was made due to concerns over possible Western sanctions, including possible restrictions that could slow the bank transfers of income that Filipino migrant workers send home from the United States and other Western countries, the Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said in July.
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, countries that buy Russian defence equipment could face Western sanctions, the ambassador said.
“I think it was really prudent especially for President Duterte to approve the cancellation of that contract because it can save us a lot of trouble,” Romualdez said later.
According to GMA News, Washington could provide similar helicopters, reportedly the Boeing CH-47 Chinook, which the Philippines requires for combat missions, search and rescue, and medical evacuation, for the same price as agreed with Russia. The US would also include maintenance services and parts, terms that were not included in the deal with Russia, defence officials told GMA.
In March, the Philippines voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution that demanded an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops.
Duterte has expressed concern over the global effects of the Russian invasion but he did not personally condemn it when he was still president.
When Duterte was in office, he nurtured close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he once called his “idol”, and frequently criticised US security policies.
The Philippines is a treaty ally of Washington under a 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty which states that both nations will provide support to one another if attacked by an external party.