Duterte to visit Russia in shift away from US

MANILA (The Straits Times/ANN) - He aims to reduce Philippines' reliance on US for arms and trade.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will fly to Russia for an official visit next week to secure deals meant to lessen his nation's dependence on the United States for arms and trade.

"We consider this visit as a landmark that will send a strong message of the Philippines' commitment to seek new partnerships and strengthen relations with non-traditional partners such as Russia," Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad said at a news briefing May 19.

Duterte will meet Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev next Wednesday (May 24) to discuss business, and President Vladimir Putin - whom Duterte has described as his "idol" - the following day to talk about politics and defence.

He will also travel to St Petersburg to visit a shipyard and attend a business forum.

Duterte has made strong overtures towards China and Russia, as he pivots away from the US, with whom the Philippines has a decades-old defence treaty. He has chafed at US criticisms of his controversial war on the narcotics trade, which has led to thousands of killings at the hands of police and vigilantes.

While he had called former US president Barack Obama a "son of a bitch", Duterte praised Putin's leadership when he met him at an international summit late last year. He also talked at length with Putin about what he called US "hypocrisy".

Natividad said Duterte and Putin will witness the signing of agreements on defence cooperation and training, treaties on mutual assistance and extradition, and memoranda on setting up defence offices in Manila and Moscow.

"The agreement on military technical cooperation will pave the way for the Philippines to explore a possibility of… military procurement from Russia," she said.

Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana earlier said that Russia had offered the Philippines access to an intelligence database to help it fight crime and militancy, and training for elite forces assigned to protect Duterte.

On the orders of Duterte, Lorenzana had been to Moscow to shop for weapons the Philippines could procure from Russian manufacturers. He had ruled out buying Russian-made AK-47s, as the Philippine military was still well- stocked with Remington M4 carbines. But he said the Philippines would consider purchasing drones and sniper rifles from Russia.

Duterte will be accompanied by a business delegation eager to cut deals in Russia.

Trade between the Philippines and Russia stood at US$226 million (S$314 million) last year.


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