THE election of President Rodrigo Duterte has brought a geopolitical shift to the Philippines.
No longer is the United States influencing the region as it once did, leaving space for Russia and China to fill the void. The Philippines has endured a long relationship with the U.S., but Duterte changed the outlook of his country with a series of rants against the former colonial power and a threat to cancel military exercises.
The Cold War era has reemerged in recent years, with events in Ukraine and Syria pinning Russia and the U.S. against each other yet again. The next battleground appears to be in South East Asia. Every time a relationship between two states deteriorates, another global power is bound to move in.
Moscow is more than happy to capitalise on the dissolving relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines.
Last Tuesday, anti-submarine warfare destroyer and fleet oilers turned up in Manila’s port for a four-day visit. According to Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, who heads the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet, there is a possibility of joint military exercises being conducted.
He continued (as quoted in Reuters), “The biggest problem now in the world is terrorism and piracy, and … we will have to fight these problems and we will show you what we can do and we will see what you can do and show us.”
Both Russia and the Philippines have a long history of combatting terrorism, in Chechnya and Mindanao respectively. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Duterte have established political careers and are no strangers to going outside the law to maintain stability.
Russian Ambassador to the Philippines, Igor Anatolyevich Khovaev, indicated Moscow was ready to improve the two country’s military relationship through supplying arms, including light weapons, military aircraft and submarines.
In order to highlight Russia’s actions have no intention of provoking a reaction from the United States, Khovaev stated, “It’s not a choice between these partners and those ones. Diversification means preserving and keeping old traditional partners and getting new ones. So Russia is ready to become a new reliable partner and close friend of the Philippines,”
Duterte has expressed openness to conducting joint military exercises with Russia. The recent visit, the third of its kind by the Russian military, is only going to increase the likelihood of an improved relationship.
Mikhailov even indicated that other states, including China and Malaysia, may coordinate with joint military exercises in the region.
The United States will have little influence in the region should a nexus emerge between Russia, China and Philippines.
It’s not only Russia that the Philippines is attempting to cultivate a new relationship with, but also China. After Beijing showed concern over the U.S.’ presence in the South China Sea, Duterte reduced the number of exercises in the disputed waters.
The fact the two countries went to the International Court of Justice to dispute claims over the South China is buried in the past, and the two countries appear willing to improve relations based on mutual benefit.
The U.S. has not outwardly showed concern over the burgeoning relationship between Russia and its former ally, but it has become clear Duterte is adamant on ridding Washington’s influence from the country’s foreign policy. Russia’s visit comes a month after the U.S. blocked the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the Philippines due to concerns over the death toll in Duterte’s ‘war of drugs’.
South East Asia is slowly being seduced by Russia.
Duterte is expected to visit Russia in April or May, indicating a healthy relationship between Russia and China is well underway.
No longer is the Philippines the U.S.’ key ally in the region, but it should not be assumed that Duterte would be easily swayed by Moscow either.
Duterte has staunchly defended the Philippines’ independence in the post-colonial era, and Russia’s interference in its post-Soviet neighbours is likely to leave Duterte treading with caution.
For the time being, however, the relationship is only able to bring untold benefits for both countries.