In the next few days, Russian Navy vessels will pay yet another visit to the Philippines. The interaction will once again highlight the growing defense cooperation being pursued by the two sides under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, despite the clear limits that remain to such collaboration.
As I have noted before, under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called independent foreign policy which seeks to boost the country’s outreach with countries like China and Russia, we have seen Russia-Philippine defense ties strengthen slowly but surely despite the clear limits that still exist (See: “Where Are Russia-Philippines Defense Relations Under Duterte?”). Russia, for its part, has been looking to boost the security aspect of its relations with several Southeast Asian states.
The most oft-cited development on the defense side has been the fact that both sides inked a new military pact during Duterte’s Russia visit in June 2017. But other notable developments also occurred last year, including the observation of a military exercise in Russia by a Philippine military delegation, the signing of an agreement on military-technical cooperation, and the turnover of Russian weapons to the Philippines as part of a third visit by Russian vessels to Manila in 2017.
Both sides have continued to discuss future possibilities for advancing defense ties in 2018. For instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s trip to the Philippines last month and his meeting with Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano saw both sides agree to further progress on developing military-technical cooperation as part of more general support for Philippine military modernization. Officials from both sides have also been hinting at future contracts for Russian defense equipment in 2018 but have not publicly provided specifics about what might be in the offing thus far.
According to the Philippine Navy, two large Russian anti-submarine ships, the Admiral Tributs and Admiral Vinogradov, along with a sea tanker, Pechenga, will arrive for a goodwill visit to the country from June 9 to June 14. The vessels had just been in Vietnam for drills over the past few days as part of a series of engagements in a two-month voyage that had begun in early May.
The Russian Navy vessels are expected to arrive in the Philippines in the early morning on June 9, docking at Pier 15, South Harbor, Manila. The ships will participate in a range of activities, including a welcome ceremony and port briefing and other exchanges that were not specified.
Few details were publicly disclosed by either side ahead of the visit, though, in light of the previous visit last year that had seen a turnover of weapons, that has not stopped observers from speculating as to what else could occur with this interaction. Irrespective of those specifics, it nonetheless serves as a reminder of the collaboration underway between Moscow and Manila in this realm.