Russian warship on Manila 'goodwill visit'

The Admiral Tributs arriving at China's Zhanjiang port last September. The Russian anti-submarine destroyer is scheduled to dock at a Manila harbour today.
The Admiral Tributs arriving at China's Zhanjiang port last September. The Russian anti-submarine destroyer is scheduled to dock at a Manila harbour today.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A warship from Russia's Pacific Fleet will dock at a Manila harbour today for a "goodwill visit", as President Rodrigo Duterte forges deeper security ties with Moscow amid a simmering row with Washington over his controversial war on crime.

The Admiral Tributs, an Udaloy- class anti-submarine destroyer commissioned in 1985, is scheduled to drop anchor at 9am, and is being escorted by oil tanker Boris Butoma. The two ships will leave on Saturday.

A Philippine Navy advisory said marines on board the Admiral Tributs will put on a show of their weapons and tactics on Thursday. There will also be goodwill games and a tour of World War II landmarks in Manila and Cavite province, it added.

Rear-Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, deputy commander of Russia's Pacific Fleet, is heading the Russian flotilla.

The last time Russian warships sailed into Philippine waters for joint activities with the Philippine Navy was in 2012, when another destroyer, the Admiral Panteleyev, came to "promote a joint environment aimed at strengthening response measures against terrorism, piracy and transnational crime".

A Russian hydrographic ship, the Marshal Gelovani, was in the Philippines in May last year, but only to resupply and give its crew time off.

The visit by the Admiral Tributs and Boris Butoma is significant, as it comes at a time when Mr Duterte is redrawing his nation's military alliances. The Philippines' mercurial 71-year-old leader has been upending decades-long security arrangements with the United States.

He has threatened to scrap a 10-year defence pact that allows US troops to use military bases in the Philippines. He has also said he wants to end all Philippine-US military exercises and boot out all American forces within the next three years.

Mr Duterte has chafed at US criticism of his anti-crime drive, which has so far led to some 6,000 extrajudicial killings, either at the hands of police or vigilantes, since he took office on June 30 last year.

He has responded to the criticism by steering the Philippines closer to the US' traditional adversaries, China and Russia.

Last October, he said he was open to holding war games with the Russians.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Peru last November, Mr Duterte met Russian President Vladimir Putin for 45 minutes and complained about what he described as the unequal treatment the US has accorded the Philippines as a treaty ally.

"It was good while it lasted," he told Mr Putin, referring to the US-Philippine alliance.

At Mr Putin's invitation, Mr Duterte is scheduled to visit Russia in April or May this year.

The Russians have offered to sell a submarine, drones and sniper rifles to the Philippines, according to Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2017, with the headline 'Russian warship on Manila 'goodwill visit''. Print Edition | Subscribe