RUSSIA has handed over shipments of assault rifles and army trucks to President Rodrigo Duterte, as he toured Moscow’s Pacific Fleet “Admiral Panteleyev” destroyer, docked at the Port of Manila.
The Philippines received 20 trucks, 5,000 units of AK-74M Kalashnikov assault rifles, one million units of 1943-type cartridges with steel core bullets, and 5,000 units of steel helmets as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s pledge to Duterte during his less than 24-hour state visit to the European power earlier this year, which was cut short due to the Marawi crisis.
Aside from the Admiral Panteleyev, the sea tanker Boris Butoma likewise made a port call to Manila, coinciding with the arrival of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, who visited the country to take part in the Fourth Asean defense chiefs meeting in Clark.
This is Russia’s third naval visit to the country—following the Udaloy-class destroyer Admiral Tributs and Slava-class Russian cruiser Varyag—since Duterte took office in June 2016.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu hailed the closer relations as he signed two agreements with his Filipino counterpart, Delfin Lorenzana.
“The Philippines is considered to be [a] key and prospective partner in Southeast Asia
and Asian-Pacific rim in general,” the Russian defense ministry quoted him as saying in a statement, adding it was the first time a defense minister from Moscow had visited the Philippines.
For decades, the Southeast Asian nation has been one of Washington’s most staunch regional military allies.
But Duterte, 72, has loosened that 70-year alliance.
Infuriated by American criticism of a controversial drug war which has claimed thousands of lives, Duterte repeatedly announced plans to shift Manila’s military dependence on the United States to procuring arms from China and Russia.
Duterte’s top security adviser Hermogenes Esperon said the Russian donation would be of great help to the country’s poorly equipped military.
“It diversifies, it provides diversity to our kind of training to different technologies and different techniques. So that should be welcome addition,” Esperon told reporters.
He also gave assurances the country’s basic alliance with the United States “will remain strong as it is.”
United States Ambassador Sung Kim, meanwhile, played down any US concerns about Duterte’s outreach to China and Russia and noted the United States, a former colonial power, was the country’s only treaty ally, with far deeper ties in the Philippines.
“I‘m not really threatened by this notion that China or Russia are providing some military equipment to the Philippines,” Kim told a small group of reporters traveling with Mattis.
“We have been providing very important equipment to the Philippines for many, many years. The fact that the Chinese and the Russians have provided some rifles, I‘m not sure is really such a cause for concern for the United States.”
The military on Monday finally declared an end to a five-month battle in the southern city of Marawi where troops struggled to flush out militants loyal to the Islamic State group in the nation’s longest urban warfare.
Australian and US military helped provide crucial reconnaissance and targeting during that fight.
But Duterte has made it clear he favors being less dependent on the US.
During a visit to Beijing last year, he said he had “realigned” himself towards Beijing and Moscow.
“There are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia,” he added.
Shoigu and Lorenzana on Tuesday signed an agreement at the sidelines of a security forum north of Manila that covered defense cooperation in weapons research and exchange of experts, according to statements from their ministries.
The Philippines also signed a contract to purchase rocket propelled grenade launchers, the Russian ministry said without stating how many weapons would be acquired or how much the deal was worth.
China has also donated thousands of assault and sniper rifles to the Philippines in a similar gesture of friendship. With AFP, Francisco Tuyay