MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday visited a Russian warship docked here, as the Philippines sought to forge closer ties with Russia amid wavering relations with its traditional ally, the United States.
Duterte boarded the Russian destroyer Admiral Tributs, one of two Russian warships currently docked in Manila, past noon and was welcomed with Russian navy officials and Ambassador Igor Khovaev.
The visit of the Russian ships comes amid the weakening ties between the Philippines and US under Duterte, who has been angered by Washington’s criticisms on his war on drugs.
“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,” political science professor Richard Heydarian told ABS-CBN News Channel.
The Russian navy visit, the first official navy-to-navy contact between the two countries, comes less than a month after Duterte sent his foreign and defense ministers to Moscow to discuss arms deals after a US senator said he would block the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines due to concern about a rising death toll in a war on drugs launched by Duterte.
In a news briefing last Wednesday, Khovaev said Russia is willing to help the Philippines enhance its military and cooperate for the advancement of the two countries’ mutual interests.
Khovaev also warned third parties from interfering with the bilateral relations of the Philippines and Russia, in what was seen as a warning to the US.
The ambassador downplayed comments that Manila is cozying up to Russia at Washington’s expense.
“I think it’s time to get rid of outdated clichés. It’s time to get rid of prejudices. As far I understand the Philippines, there is an objective need to diversify the range of circle of your foreign partners” Khovaev said.
“We are talking about diversification. It’s a not a choice between these partners and those ones. Diversification means reserving, keeping traditional old partners and getting new ones.”
Political science professor Clarita Carlos meanwhile welcomed the government’s move to “diversify” its relations.
“It simply means that we are really diversifying our relations with many other different countries although we've had relations with them since the 70s,” Carlos told ABS-CBN News Channel.
During the time of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, the Philippines sought closer ties with the US as it dealt with Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
Duterte has decided to set aside the Philippines’ maritime spat with China in exchange for economic gains. - with AFP, Reuters