Asia's Game of Thrones
Russia Conducts Joint Drills with the Philippines

For the second time this year, Russia has made a port call in the Philippines, this time leading joint naval exercises. Reuters:

Russian navy vessels arrived in the Philippines on Thursday for joint exercises as part of a drive for new security ties under President Rodrigo Duterte’s revamped foreign policy of courting the traditional foes of Manila’s top ally, Washington.

The guided-missile cruiser Varyag, accompanied by the fuel tanker ship, Pechenge, are on a four-day goodwill visit to the Philippines, the second port call by Russian warships in three months. […]

Russian commander Captain Alexsei Ulyanenko said the port call would make a “significant contribution” to strengthening relations and maintaining stability in the region.

Moscow wants to help Manila combat extremism and piracy, stepping up cooperation and training in areas where the Philippines has traditionally worked closely with its former colonial master the United States.

Moscow and Manila have been making friendly noises toward each other for some time now; when the two countries made their first navy-to-navy contacts in January, the Russian Ambassador to the Philippines celebrated the occasion by trolling the Obama Administration for its criticism of Duterte’s human rights record and the withholding of arms sales to his government. Then as now, Moscow’s message to Manila has been loud and clear: Unlike Washington, we will help you crack down on extremism and sell you weapons without handwringing over human rights.

President Trump, by contrast with Obama, has not made humanitarian concerns a priority, and Duterte has openly praised Trump as a “realist and a pragmatic thinker.” That said, the Administration has not devoted much attention to repairing ties with Manila either, and Moscow still sees an opening to exploit Duterte’s invitation for “re-alignment” at the expense of the United States.

So far, Russia has offered arms sales, intelligence sharing, and defense cooperation to the Philippines; expect even more overtures when Duterte and Putin meet for a summit in Moscow next month.

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