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Russia Just Gave Duterte 5,000 New Kalashnikovs for His War on ISIS

The weapons deal was made after the US allegedly held up new shipments in light of human rights offenses associated with Duterte's brutal drug war.
Photo by Aaron Favila/Associated Press

This article originally appeared on VICE News.

Russia has agreed to donate 5,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles to the Philippines, after the United States balked at selling rifles to a country widely accused of human rights violations in the course of its notoriously bloody war on drugs.

"We will have the Kalashnikovs," Duterte proudly announced in a speech on Wednesday, adding that Russia asked him to keep the deal quiet.


The shipment of Russian arms, which Duterte said will be used to fight pro-ISIS rebels, represents a big shift for the Philippines, which has traditionally maintained a close military alliance with the United States over the past 60 years. Since just 2000, the US has supplied the Philippines with roughly $1 billion USD worth of equipment.

But now the US State Department is reportedly holding up a previously agreed sale of 27,000 Sig Sauer assault rifles. That deal has been stymied since last year, when US Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came out against it, citing concerns about the Philippines' violent crackdown on drug users and dealers.

Russia, along with China, appear ready to fill the void left by the Americans. Duterte's deal for Russian arms follows a Chinese donation of 6,000 assault rifles and 100 sniper rifles.

"What we've seen is the Russian government and the Chinese government spotting an opportunity," Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told VICE News. "Both Russia and China have expressed firm support for this murderous war on drugs from the beginning."

An unnamed senior Russian defense official told Reuters the Kalashnikovs would arrive later this month, accompanied by millions of rounds of ammunition and dozens of army trucks.

"As far as I can remember, the Russians have never supplied us with any form of materiel in the past," Philippines defense department spokesman, Arsenio Andolong, told AFP.

The influx of Russian and Chinese guns comes at a time when Duterte's police forces are being widely accused of extensive human rights abuses in a violent anti-narcotics campaign that human rights groups say has killed thousands of mostly small-time peddlers and users.