In the clearest sign yet of Duterte’s rejection of long-standing USA-Philippine relations, the president has said he hopes Russia will become his country’s new ally and protector.
His remarks came as he toured one of the two Russian warships currently moored in Manila harbour today (Friday, January 6).
Yesterday, the Russian ambassador said the Kremlin was ready to supply the Philippines with sophisticated weapons, and aims to become its close friend.
At the same press conference, Igor Khovaev warned the Philippines’ “traditional partners” not to interfere with the growing friendship between Moscow and Manila. He said: “We will not tolerate any attempt of any third country to interfere in the relations of our two sovereign states, the Philippines and Russia.
“We don’t interfere into your relations with your traditional partners, and your traditional partners should respect the interests of the Philippines and Russia,” he said.
He also chastised local media for not giving the naval visit the attention he believed it deserved. (See our report here).
President Duterte appeared in particularly high spirits during the visit to the warship, at one point looking out from the deck and repeatedly pumping his fist in the air.
“We welcome our Russian friends. Any time you want to dock here for anything, for play, for replenish supplies or maybe our ally to protect us,” said Duterte while shaking the hands of Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, head of the flotilla of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet.
“Friends, long live!” He added: “That’s from the heart; I hope you can come back more often.”
The Russian ‘goodwill visit’ (see our report here) comes in the light of Duterte’s frequent threats to downgrade or even end military and diplomatic ties with Washington, as well as his frequent angry outbursts aimed at America. He has put on hold a number of annual war games traditionally held with the USA, and has said he wants American troops out of his country.
The president has also sought to shift his nation’s foreign and military alliances towards China and Russia, with an official visit to Moscow planned for April.
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.”
This week’s visit by the Admiral Tributs, an anti-submarine vessel, and sea tanker Boris Butoma, represents the first official navy-to-navy contact between the two countries.
Last month, Duterte sent his foreign and defence ministers to Moscow to discuss arms deals after a US senator threatened to block the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines, due to concern over the death toll of Duterte’s war on drugs.
Shortly after arriving in Manila on Tuesday, Rear Admiral Mikhailov said that Russia wanted to hold maritime exercises with the Philippines to help combat terrorism and piracy, particularly in the country’s southern waters where Abu Sayyaf operate.
The Russian visit has also been marked by a bizarre display of “skills” by marines in Rizal park. The camouflage-clad personnel smashed bottles over each other’s heads, hit one another with burning planks of wood and had flaming cinder blocks smashed on their stomachs.