Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte visited a Russian warship docked in Manila on Friday, signalling his desire to strengthen the country’s relationship with Russia.
“We welcome our Russian friends. Anytime you want to dock here for anything, for play, for replenish supplies or maybe our ally to protect us,” Duterte said, as he greeted Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, head of the Flotilla of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet.
This is the first time the Russian and Philippines navies have officially come into contact, but for Duterte it is just the latest posturing as Philippines relations with the U.S. continue to weaken.
- Since Duterte came to power at the end of June, he has carried out a violent war on drugs, empowering police and vigilantes to shoot suspected drug dealers on sight. The latest death toll from the campaign is estimated to be about 6,000.
- Washington has strongly criticized this approach, and the typically strong relationship between the two countries — fostered by Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino III — has deteriorated. “In this venue, I announce my separation from the United States,” Duterte said in October during a trip to Beijing.
- Instead Duterte has sought to make new alliances — particularly with China and Russia. “You know, if China and Russia would decide to create a new order, I will be the first to join,” Duterte said in November, in a comment aimed at the U.S. and U.N.
- Duterte is cozying up to China despite a long history of animosity between the two countries over rights to areas of the South China Sea rich in oil and natural gas. Since taking office Duterte has sought to reverse the Philippines foreign policy in relation to China and is instead seeking to partner with them in order to spur growth.
- Last month Duterte sent his foreign and defense ministers to Moscow to discuss arms deals. The move came after a U.S. Senator Ben Cardin said he would block the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines over concerns about the rising death toll from Duterte’s war on drugs.
- During a speech in Beijing last year, Duterte clearly outlined his vision for the future: “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.”
Political science professor Richard Heydarian believes the Russian navy visit is a significant moment: “With this visit, Russia is putting flesh and steel to its pivot to Asia policy. This is the first time Russia has sent warships to the Philippines since the end of the Cold War so in historical terms, this is unprecedented,” Heydarian told ABS-CBN News Channel.