Why Russia supplies weapons to longtime US ally in Southeast Asia

Почему Россия снабжает оружием давнего союзника США в Юго-Восточной Азии

Speaking on the same stage with the President of Russia Vladimir Putin during a prestigious forum of the international discussion club “Valdai” in early October, the President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte behaved as peculiar to him, boldly, if not arrogantly. He sharply denounced the United States and Europe. The formal reason was that the West had opposed his methods of struggle with drugs, which killed thousands of Filipinos. However, the audience before which he performed the Russian foreign policy elite – was not accidental.Visit Duterte in Russia was another important step in the growing partnership in security between the Philippines, a traditional ally of Washington, and Russia, its main strategic adversary. According to analysts, it gradually changes the combination of the pieces on the strategic chessboard of Asia. Since then, as Duterte took office as President in 2016, the Russian military ships docked in Philippine ports six times. In 2017 Russia gave as a gift to the Philippines thousands of assault rifles and helmets, nearly a million rounds and 20 army trucks.The Philippines also expressed its interest in buying Russian submarines and a helicopter, much to the chagrin of Washington. Moscow has recently offered help in the combat training of the armed forces of the Philippines and holding joint military exercises. And in September this year Moscow sent to Manila its military attaché, the first since the collapse of the Soviet Union.As for Duterte, for him these relations are especially important since Western countries are increasingly refusing to sell arms to the Philippines. In 2016, the United States blocked the delivery of 26 thousand assault rifles to Manila due to extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations committed by the government of Duterte in attempts to eradicate the drug trade. It is important to note that the friendship between Moscow and Manila not only complicates us-Filipino relations.Despite the loud statements of the Kremlin about its strategic partnership with China, the Russian political elite, according to some analysts, in recent years more and more alarmed by the prospect of too strong of Russia’s dependence on its southern neighbor amid poor relations with Europe and sanctions regime by the US. According to Professor of National research University “Higher school of Economics” Alexey Maslov, they are also disappointed with the reluctance of China to invest in Russia or to join it in countering Western sanctions. To correct this growing imbalance, Russia is seeking to establish partnerships with other players in Asia, including those who have had an uneasy relationship with China. This is the situation with the Philippines, which are in a territorial dispute with China.”The Philippines is a very important partner in this sense as Russia is the first invades the territory as the United States and China, says Professor Maslov. Is a new and very important step for us.”For rapprochement between Russia and the Philippines there are other reasons, starting with the well-known admiration for Duterte Putin and his constant readiness to challenge the West. Shortly after taking office, Duterte named Putin as his “favorite hero” and announced the intention to balance the relationship of the Philippines with the United States due to the rapprochement with Moscow and Beijing.Military support that Russia gives to the Philippines, in addition to economic considerations, due to the fact that Moscow shares the goal of Manila is to achieve victory in the long war against the rebels-jihadists gain a foothold in the southern part of the country. Moscow is extremely interested in the fact that to prevent the spread Islamist influence to the borders of Russia, said the expert on Southeast Asia at the Institute of Oriental studies, Dmitry Mosyakov.”When it comes to such radical Islamic groups, we understand that today they are fighting in the Philippines, tomorrow may be in Syria, and the next day – in the countries of Central Asia or any other regions, he says. In such a situation, helping the Philippines, we thereby also help ourselves”.However, despite a strong common interest, strengthening of the Russian-Philippine military cooperation faces significant obstacles. So, the chief editor of defence magazine “Arsenal Fatherland” Victor murakhovski skeptical about the prospect of major purchases of Russian arms by the Philippines, primarily due to a very limited military budget. In addition, he doubts that Moscow has a wide range of military equipment which it could offer Manila. “Due to its geographical position, the Philippines focus on the Navy and air force that can support them, he says. We don’t have a lot of weapons of this kind, which at least theoretically could be of interest to the Philippines”.According to him, the fulfilment of the Russian promises to help the Philippines in the training of military personnel is also unlikely. The fact that the two countries have never conducted joint exercises, and the Philippines has never sent its officers to study at Russian military academies, and this is the most important measures for strengthening trust and mutual exchange of information between the armed forces. Murakhovski warns that on the way to a structured long-term partnership in the field of defence Russia and the Philippines will have to start from scratch, and it will take years just to lay the foundations.Although Duterte might be ready to take action in this direction, Murakhovsky expressed doubt that the subsequent administration of the Philippines will resist pressures from Washington as well, as does the current President. “It is important to remember that from the outset all military-political machine in the Philippines was focused on the United States, he says. To expect that she will make a turn of 180 degrees, it would be extremely presumptuous”.However, other Russian analysts, such as Moscow indicate the speed at which the turn of the Philippines to Russia now, when Duterte, and see it as a reason for optimism about future relations between the two countries. “The Philippines was the most closed to the Russian nation throughout Southeast Asia, says Moscow. – If you compare our relationship in 2016 and now, you will see that behind the big way”.

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