President Rodrigo Duterte (center) gives the thumbs up to performers during the Philippine Cultural Gala Performance at the Four Seasons Hotel in Moscow, Russia on Oct. 4, 2019. ALFRED FRIAS/PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Twice the host interrupted him during his long-winded response to questions during an open forum at the Valdai conference last week in Sochi, a resort city on the banks of Black Sea in Russia, and asked him to wrap up his statements.

Rodrigo Duterte was so eager to please his hosts and lambasted Western countries, particularly Moscow’s arch-rival the United States, for “meddling” in the Philippines’ internal affairs by criticizing his brutal war on drugs, which has killed thousands in police anti-narcotics operations since July 2016.

Duterte took the occasion to defend his administration and get approval and support from Russia, that he forgot to answer directly the questions on his foreign policy approach and warm relations with China. He even attacked the Roman Catholic Church, a staunch critic of his drug war, in an effort to win support from Russian Orthodox Church. He must be unaware a very small Orthodox Church exists in the country and there are a few Filipino priests who were educated and trained in Russia.

The president trumpeted that the Philippines and Russia had sealed close security and economic ties as well as functional cooperation in the education, information and scientific fields. Two-way trade in agriculture, industrial and technological products expanded.

The trip however resulted in a measly $12.6 million in business deals involving a distributorship of Russian watches and trucks and Filipino canned tuna, sardines and coconut milk.

Like China, Russia appeared to be hesitant to make huge investment in infrastructure commitments, but there was an intention to build nuclear power plants, which could eventually bring down power rates in the country. The Philippines had an unpleasant experience with nuclear power plants after the Westinghouse deal during the Marcos regime, and public opinion has been adverse for reasons of public safety and security.

The administration of Fidel V. Ramos drafted a nuclear energy plan that did not take off, and it would be difficult under Duterte’s government to convince the people of the advantages of nuclear power because of the accident in Fukushima that followed an earthquake and tsunami. Like Japan, the Philippines sits on the Pacific ring of fire where volcanoes continuously erupt and tectonic plates constantly shift, triggering earthquakes that may cause tidal waves in coastal areas.

The best option to secure the country’s energy security is to strike a deal for cheaper supply of fossil fuel from Russia, which supplies 6-7 percent of Philippines’s requirement. More than 90 percent still come from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and other Gulf states. But it appears Moscow and Manila did not discuss any oil supply deal during Duterte’s five-day trip.

On defense and security, Duterte boasted of improved and enhanced ties after Russia offered to sell a variety of weaponry and capabilities, like helicopters, light tanks and armored vehicles, submarines, surface ships and small arms including rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and assault and sniper rifles.

Duterte is a shrewd politician who wanted to play the world’s superpowers against each other to reap benefits from both sides. During the visit of a Russian warship in Manila, there were rumors Duterte cracked a joke before shocked Russian diplomats and naval officers. Touring the deck of the warship, he sat on the captain’s chair, peered through a scope and suddenly blurted out, “American planes in sight, let’s get them.”

The Russians had a hearty laugh. Filipino security officials were taken by surprise but joined in the laughter. It was one of those classic jokes from the president.

At the Valdai forum, there was also laughter when Duterte tried to crack jokes about being a “lady killer” or being a playboy, but the Russians were certainly not amused by his ramblings and lengthy statements even if he was clearly attacking the West.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin was visibly interested and appreciated Duterte’s diatribe, but was not ready to commit more security assistance other than the token donation Moscow delivered in October 2017 toward the end of the Marawi conflict.

During their bilateral meeting in Sochi, Putin promised to support the Philippines’s anti-terrorism campaign as both countries face threats from pro-Islamic State militants, saying: “We are ready to continue to develop our partnership and to share our experience and achievements in the field of counter-terrorism.”

Duterte has to do more to show his government is shifting allegiance from the West to the East to convince Russia to provide tangible military and economic support. It still has to translate into actual security cooperation the pledge of the Russians – and to some extent the Chinese – to provide support to fight terrorism and internal security threats through equipment, training and capabilities.

As it stands, the Philippines is still relying on its traditional security allies and partners for actual equipment and training support. Australia is still the top source of military education and training, and the United States the No. 1 source of equipment and capabilities. It has also agreed with the Philippines to increase from 281 to 300 training activities next year under the Mutual Defense Board (MDB) and Security Engagement Board (SEB). The MDB takes care of conventional military activities while the SEB is the mechanism for non-traditional military activities, including counter-terrorism, anti-drug and other transnational crimes.

Duterte has to do a lot to convince Russia and China to elevate security relations at the same level with the United States, Australia and even with Japan and South Korea. There are no existing mechanisms for security cooperation even after the president told Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping that their sniper rifles killed terrorist leader Isnilon Hapilon and the Maute brothers in Marawi.

The Russian equipment arrived in the country after soldiers killed Hapilon with a precision gun mounted on an Israeli-armored vehicle. The Chinese rifles were given to the Philippine National Police (PNP), which was still testing the sniper rifles transferred to army and marine units.

There is an obvious disconnect.

While Duterte is trying to invite the Russians and the Chinese to the dance floor, his security officials are reluctant to do the waltz.

Before leaving for his second Russian trip, there were reports the Philippines was prepared to acquire 16 Mi-17i helicopters from Moscow, through Rosoboronexport, even if the Russian aircraft lost to the American-designed Black Hawk, which won the tender for combat utility helicopters project under the military’s modernization program.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana flatly denied the deal. He said the Philippines would still look at what the Russians had to offer and nothing was final. The Philippine Navy chief said it was more interested in French submarines than the electric-diesel sub-surface vessel from Russia.

The Russians and Chinese are not foolish enough to swallow Duterte’s rhetoric against the West over supposed interference, while the Philippines at the same time enjoys close security cooperation with Western powers.

Duterte has less than three years in office and his health is in doubt. Moscow and Beijing are only being pragmatic in dealing with Duterte and making the most out of their warming relationship with Manila that the president has vigorously pursued since coming to office.

Moscow and Beijing know the Philippines is a staunch ally of the West and public opinion surveys show this. Filipinos trust the Americans, Japanese and Western countries more than the Russians and Chinese.

It seems Duterte, a self-proclaimed socialist, is alone is pursuing more friendly relations with authoritarian regimes. Filipinos love Duterte as a politician but do not support his foreign policy – a disconnect people abroad would probably not understand.