TWO Russian warships docked in Manila today (Tuesday, January 3) in anticipation of conducting war games with the Philippines Navy. Meanwhile, Beijing yesterday confirmed that its aircraft carrier had conducted drills in the South China Sea.
The arrival of the Admiral Tributs, an anti-submarine vessel, and sea tanker Boris Butoma, is the latest indication of President Duterte’s shift away from his country’s old ally the USA.
Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia’s Pacific fleet, said the exercises would focus on maritime piracy and terrorism. “We’re sure that in the future we’ll get such exercises with you, maybe just the manoeuvring or maybe use some combat systems, and so on,” he told reporters on the quayside.
“Our governments will discuss the possibilities of our maritime exercises. The biggest problem now in the world is terrorism and piracy, and all our exercises we have with you we will have to fight these problems and we will show you what we can do and we will see what you can do and show us.”
Mikhailov also raised the prospect of holding exercises with China and Malaysia in the South China Sea, where rival territorial claims have been a major source of tension.
“We really hope that in a few years, the military exercises in your region, in the South China Sea, will involve not only Russia-Philippines, but Russia, Philippines, China and maybe Malaysia together.”
A spokesman for the Philippine Navy told reporters it was the first official interaction with the Russian navy, arch rival of its former colonial master and closest ally in the region, the United States.
The visit comes in the light of Duterte’s frequent threats to downgrade or even end military and diplomatic ties with Washington. He has put on hold the dozens of war games held annually with the US, and said he wants American troops out of his country.
The self-described socialist has also sought to dramatically shift his nation’s foreign and military alliances towards China and Russia, with an official visit to Moscow expected in April or May.
Speaking during a visit to Beijing in October, he said: “America has lost. 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.”
It is likely any joint exercises will focus on tackling Abu Sayyaf. The Philippines has been struggling to prevent the Islamist militants from abducting crew of slow-moving tugboat and foreigners sailing on yachts in its southern waters.
The Abu Sayyaf, a small but violent group which has pledged allegiance to so-called Islamic State, is currently holding a German tourist and more than 10 Malaysian and Indonesian crewmen. A Dutch and a Japanese national are also being held captive.
Last month, Duterte sent his foreign and defence ministers to Moscow to explore arms deal after a US senator said he would block the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines due to concerns with the rising death toll in his war on drugs.
Russia’s naval visit also coincides with confirmation from Beijing that its sole aircraft carrier has conducted drills in the South China Sea.
The Soviet-built Liaoning aircraft carrier and accompanying warships sailed round the east coast of Taiwan in what China called “a routine exercise complying with international law”.
The carrier’s J-15 fighters conducted flight exercises in “complex sea conditions” yesterday (Monday, January 2), the People’s Liberation Army Navy said.
The carrier group also ran helicopter exercises, it said, but did not give details on the exact location.