Hello Moscow, see you in April
By any standard, it was a most unusual visit. For the first time in our history, a Philippine president boarded a Russian warship accompanied by a star-studded cast of Cabinet officials that included Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr., Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and AFP Chief of Staff Eduardo Año, who was sporting a fourth star on his shoulders. For good measure, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, who is reported to be moving over to the Department of Foreign Affairs in July, was also present. Never has our government shown so much interest in a Russian military vessel, this one an antisubmarine destroyer, Admiral Tributs. The ship is named after a distinguished Russian naval officer who served as commander of the Baltic Fleet during the siege of Leningrad in World War II.
President Duterte was accompanied in his guided tour of the vessel by Russian Ambassador Igor Khovaev; Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of the Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet; and the ship’s captain, Lt. Commander Artem Kolpashchikov. After the tour, he paused for pictures with his signature clenched fist prominently displayed.
Some people see the presidential visit as a spite against the United States. I see it as a way of building up relationships that were neglected in the past, possibly for fear of alienating or irritating others. Perhaps Ambassador Khovaev put it best when he said, “We are talking about diversification… this means reserving, keeping traditional old partners and getting new ones.”
We need to see what else is out there instead of limiting ourselves to one or two sources of strength and development. The latter attitude only deepens our dependence on those few benefactors who may or may not be around when crunch time comes. Such dependency also solidifies our image as “little brown brothers.” May I also add that in reaching out to others, we need not insult old friends, even though they have the tendency to lecture us for shortcomings they themselves manifest from time to time.
Winston Churchill once called Russia “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”
Here are a few notes on our recent visitors.
Many Filipinos make the mistake of referring to present-day Russia as the Soviet Union. This is because for a long period of time, we knew the country as the USSR or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This was a socialist state established after the overthrow of the czar in the October Revolution of 1917. The first leader of the state was the Marxist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin. In 1922, the Union consisted of 15 republics: Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Belorussia, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.
Joseph Stalin came to power in 1924. His regime resulted in total control by the state over the economy and industry. His influence extended over every aspect of political and social life, with all opposition being eliminated either by execution or detention in gulags or labor camps.
In his book “Truman,” historian David McCullough described Stalin as “the single most powerful figure in the world. He was absolute dictator over 180 million people of 170 nationalities…” He stood at about five feet, five inches, and US President Harry Truman called him “a little bit of a squirt.” President Roosevelt affectionately referred to him as “Uncle Joe,” while Gen. Dwight Eisenhower saw him as “benign and fatherly.” But in truth, “he was unspeakably cruel and ruled absolutely by terror and secret police.”
Stalin once said, “When one man dies, it is a tragedy. When thousands die, it is statistics.”
In the power struggle that followed the death of Stalin in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev emerged victorious. He is best known for instigating the Cuban Missile Crisis by placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, just 90 miles off the US mainland. In 1960, Khrushchev, as head of the Soviet delegation to the UN General Assembly, was infuriated by a statement by a Philippine delegate, Sen. Lorenzo Sumulong, who charged the Soviets with employing a double standard decrying colonialism while dominating Eastern Europe. Khrushchev demanded the right of reply and accused Sumulong of being a “fawning lackey of American imperialists.” He took off his shoes and began banging them on his desk to cut off Sumulong.
In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became prime minister and proceeded to initiate reforms designed to jumpstart a stagnant economy and change the political structure of the country. He introduced two sets of policies: 1) glasnost or political openness, where political prisoners were released, newspapers could print criticisms against the government, and other political parties could participate in elections; and 2) perestroika or economic restructuring, where individuals could own businesses, workers could strike for better wages and conditions, and foreign investment was encouraged.
However, these reforms were slow to bear fruit and the old system collapsed before the new one could get started.
In 1989, the success of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, led by Lech Walesa, resulted in free elections in that country. In November of the same year, the Berlin Wall fell. In Czechoslovakia, the Velvet Revolution brought about the ouster of the communist regime. By December, Belarus, Russian Federation, and Ukraine had broken away from the Union, creating the Commonwealth of Independent States, and they were followed by the rest. Dec. 26, 1991 marked the dissolution of the Soviet Union. After the breakup, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic became the Russian Federation, or what we know today as Russia. Its first president was Boris Yeltsin.
In terms of land area, Russia is the world’s largest nation inhabited by 145 million people, most of whom belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. It is also the land of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky of “Swan Lake” fame; Alexander Pushkin, known as the Russian Shakespeare; Boris Pasternak, 1958 Nobel Prize winner in Literature; and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, another Nobel Prize winner also in Literature for “The Gulag Archipelago.”
Valdimir Putin, a former KGB officer, is on his third four-year term as president, after serving as prime minister under President Dmitry Medvedev.
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