MANILA - Russian Marines shattered glass bottles with their heads and smashed burning wooden planks against each other Thursday as part of an eye-catching charm offensive in the Philippines, a traditional US ally.
The camouflage-clad Marines showed off their pistol-shooting, knife-fighting and martial arts skills to the Filipino public in Manila's central park as part of a "goodwill visit" spearheaded by two warships following Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's announced pivot away from the United States.
As bewildered passers-by watched, the Russians smashed boards with their fists, had cinder blocks crushed on their stomachs and endured beatings from flaming planks.
The show culminated with them smashing glass bottles on their heads without any visible effect.
After the display, eager Filipinos rushed to take "selfies" with the beret-wearing Russians.
"The performances were great, the stunts were quite impressive," gushed student Antonio Chua.
Filipinos were also allowed to attend an open house on the submarine-hunter Admiral Tributs, one of the two ships making what was only the Russian Navy's third-ever port call in the Philippines.
Duterte, who calls himself a socialist, has championed a move away from the United States and towards US rivals Russia and China following American criticism of his bloody war on crime that has claimed thousands of lives.
"America has lost," Duterte said on a visit to China in October last year.
"I've realigned myself in your (Chinese) ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It's the only way."
Russia's ambassador to the Philippines Igor Khovaev said Thursday he expected a planned visit by Duterte to Russia in April or May to be "a milestone".
"It will be a very successful visit that will give a powerful impetus (to our) cooperation in different fields," Khovaev told reporters at the Marines' display.
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