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Russia plans military drills with Philippines

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This file photo shows Russian Navy Pacific Fleet Destroyer Admiral Tributs in 2012.

The Russian Navy says it is planning to hold maritime drills with the Philippines to help the Southeast Asian country fight terrorism and piracy.

The announcement on Tuesday came as two Russian ships - anti-submarine vessel Admiral Tributs and a sea tanker Boris Butoma - docked in Manila on a four-day goodwill visit.  

According to Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov, the deputy commander of the Russian Navy’s Pacific fleet, an anti-submarine vessel, named Admiral Tributs and a sea tanker Boris Butoma arrived in the Philippine capital late on Tuesday for a four-day official navy-to-navy contact.

“Our governments will maybe discuss in some period of time the possibilities of our maritime exercises,” deputy commander of the Russian Navy’s Pacific fleet Rear Admiral Eduard Mikhailov said on board Admiral Tributs. 

“We’re very sure that in the future we’ll get such exercises” with the Philippine side, perhaps “just the maneuvering or maybe use some combat systems and so on,” he told a news conference.

Mikhailov said that a wide range of equipment had been brought on both vessels to show Russia's anti-terror capabilities to the Philippine military.

“The biggest problem now in the world is terrorism and piracy... we will show you what we can do and we will see what you can do and show us," he said. 

The joint drills come at a time of strained relations between the Philippines and the US. President Rodrigo Duterte was quoted as saying last month that Manila could live without US aid after Washington said it was halting assistance.

“You can choose … to cooperate with United State of America or to cooperate with Russia, but from our side we can help you in every way that you need,” Mikhailov said on Tuesday.

The visit is the third by the Russian Navy visit to the Southeastern Asian country but it is the first made under Duterte’s administration.

Manila is currently shifting its foreign policy from the US, its longtime ally, to China but Philippines' new ambassador to China Jose Sta. Romana said the shift did not mean severing ties with Washington.

"We were one-sidedly imbalanced in favor of the US,” he said, adding his country was not abandoning alliance with the US but was "basically trying to normalize our relations with China.”

The US, as the colonial ruler until 1946, currently serves as the South Asian country’s main military ally but has also been highly critical of Duterte’s severe crackdown on crime, especially drug trade, which has killed some 3,000 people over the past months.

Philippines suffers from attacks from a number of terror groups on its territory, the most prominent of which is the ultra-violent Abu Sayyaf, which pledged alliance to the Daesh terrorist group in the summer of 2014.

Those groups have been involved in many criminal activities, including rape and drug trafficking, in what they describe as their battle for an independent province in the Philippines.

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