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    'The Russians Are Most Effective in Syria' - Philippines Defense Minister

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    The defense minister of the Philippines considers Russia to be the most effective force operating in Syria. If US-backed rebels win, chaos will ensue, he said.

    MOSCOW(Sputnik) — Russia has proven to be an effective force throughout the Syrian crisis while US pro-opposition stance is a recipe for chaos in the war-torn country, Philippines' National Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told Sputnik on Thursday.

    "The Russians are most effective in Syria. The Russians tried to side with the government of [President Bashar] Assad, when the Americans start to side with the rebels. Why do they have to side with the rebels? When they win, there will be chaos," Lorenzana said on the sidelines of the Moscow Conference on International Security.

    The Philippines had no interest in being involved in operations of the US-led coalition in Syria, he added.

    Russia has been involved in a counter-terrorist campaign in Syria since September 2015 at the request of Damascus. The US-led coalition went into Syria the year before without the Syrian government's consent.

    "We believe that Russia has a lot of information, because Russia is in Syria and Iraq. They have intelligence there and we'd like to get a database. According to the minister of defense [Sergei Shoigu], they have a big database of fighters there and some of them are from South Asia, maybe some of them are Filipinos," Lorenzana said.

    He added that the acquired information will be used to apprehend Filipino citizens upon their return to the Philippines.

    "We'd like to know them. We'll allow them to come, but [they have to] be prepared to be captured," the Filipino minister said.

    Philippines Hopes China to Sign South China Sea Code of Conduct in 3 Months

    The Philippines has been persuading China to become part of the code of conduct agreement in the disputed South China Sea, expected to be signed in three months, Lorenzana told Sputnik.

    "One bright spot is up to the code of conduct in the [South China] Sea. We are trying for China to come on board to sign it in under three months. If there will be a change of heart and we will try to sign it this will be a good step," Lorenzana said when asked if any progress was expected in settling the territorial dispute this year.

    He also expressed doubt that the upcoming meeting of US State Secretary Rex Tillerson with his Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) counterparts on May 4, which would touch upon this issue, would be effective.

    "I hope so, but I doubt it [will bring results]. The US is not the signatory to the UNCLOS [United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea]. It just wants to use the South China Sea for trade. They are not involved themselves in the territorial disputes," Lorenzana said.

    The ASEAN and China have been eyeing a code of conduct agreement envisioning a crisis management mechanism, a limit on offensive weapons deployment and navigation freedom. The document would replace the 2002 declaration of conduct between the sides.

    China’s territorial claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which are believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves, run counter to those of the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam. The dispute has been scaled down after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte played down the country's concerns over Chinese artificial islands amid warming relations between the countries.

    Duterte has made moves to ease tensions with China and distance from the United States over the South China Sea territorial dispute since coming to power last year. He previously declared that joint US-Philippines military exercises and naval patrols would cease and the alliance would be reviewed.

    Lorenzana to Sign Cooperation Agreement With Russia's Shoigu in May

    Lorenzana on Thursday told Sputnik of plans to sign a military cooperation agreement with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu while in Moscow on May 25-26 as part of Duterte’s visit.

    "We don't have any framework here to exchange equipment because we haven't signed the agreement. I'm going to sign a military cooperation [deal] with your defense minister [Sergei Shoigu] sometime in May 25-26, because the president is coming here and I'm coming with him. I will sign with Mr. Shoigu these agreements," Lorenzana said.

    Until then, Manila and Moscow plan to exchange students and participate in joint military exercises, which would allow Filipinos to test Russian weapons before concluding acquisition talks, he added.

    "We are looking at helicopters, submarines, maybe sniper rifles, drones and maybe some armor vehicles, that's what we are looking at," Lorenzana said.

    On Wednesday, Lorenzana expressed his interest in sending observers to the International Army Games and the Army-2017 forum that will be held in August in Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, China and Azerbaijan.

    Russia equipment desired by the Philippines will be seen by its armed forces representatives who come to the games, according to the minister.

    Last year's event, hosted by Russia and Kazakhstan, featured competitions in 23 disciplines and teams from 19 countries. A number of countries have expressed interest in joining the games this year with several new disciplines expected to be introduced.

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    Tags:
    terrorism, The Syrian war, ASEAN, Rodrigo Duterte, Rex Tillerson, Delfin Lorenzana, South China Sea, Syria, Iraq, United States, Russia, Philippines
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