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Philippines Warming Up to Russian Military Assistance

Russia and the Philippines are considering joint naval exercises, a move that would bring the Philippines closer to a multi-country foreign policy and build its military.

Russia sent a destroyer and a naval tanker to Manila last week as part of a five-day goodwill visit. Media in the Philippines report that the two nations are looking to expand defense cooperation.

The Philippines had not had much contact with Russia prior to the election of Rodrigo Duterte to the Philippine presidency, due to the nation’s historic alliance with the United States. But Duterte has said since he was elected that he wants to reduce dependency on the U.S.

In a November meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Duterte expressed a desire to distance the Philippines from the United States. He has also visited China and Japan, both of which offered to help the Philippines with aid and investment.

“Russia’s helping the Philippines is a shot across America’s bow, as Moscow’s letting us know it can operate in what has long been considered U.S.-friendly territory,” said Sean King, Senior Vice President with political consulting firm Park Strategies. “It’s hard to say how far the cooperation can, or will, go, but its symbolism cannot be overstated.”

If the Philippines and Russia sign a memorandum of understanding regarding military and economic aid, it could allow for military exchanges, joint exercises, and student visits, a spokesman for Duterte said.

Many observers see Russia as wanting more influence in Asia, but also wanting to keep its involvement low enough to avoid problems with China, Vietnam, or Indonesia. Establishing a relationship with the Philippines could aid in this plan.

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