Russian warship docks in Philippines

MANILA: Russian navy vessels arrived in the Philippines on Thursday for joint exercises as part of a drive for new security ties under President Rodrigo Duterte’s revamped foreign policy of courting the traditional foes of Manila’s top ally, Washington.
The guided-missile cruiser Varyag, accompanied by the fuel tanker ship, Pechenge, are on a four-day goodwill visit to the Philippines, the second port call by Russian warships in three months.
The move is part of what Duterte describes as a pursuit of a constitutionally mandated “independent foreign policy”. He has made no secret of his grudge against the United States and has made befriending Russia and China the priority of his diversification drive.
Captain Lued Lincuna, Director of the Philippine Navy’s Public Affairs, said the Philippines hoped to learn from the Russians during training activities and a demonstration of advanced equipment and weapons systems.
The schedule includes training and sports activities with the flagship vessel of the Russian Pacific fleet, plus a Russian concert in a park.
Russian commander Captain Alexsei Ulyanenko said the port call would make a “significant contribution” to strengthening relations and maintaining stability in the region.
Moscow wants to help Manila combat extremism and piracy, stepping up cooperation and training in areas where the Philippines has traditionally worked closely with the United States.
The relationship is expected to develop further next month when Duterte and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin witness the signing of defence agreements in Moscow.
When Duterte met Putin for the first time last year, the Philippine leader spoke at length about what he called US “hypocrisy”.
Duterte has instructed his defence minister to look into how the Philippines could acquire modern military equipment from Russia, like drones, night-vision gear, sniper rifles, and even helicopters.
In another development, the Philippines has ordered an inquiry into reports that “foreign vessels” near China’s man-made islands harassed Filipino fishermen in the disputed South China Sea, the military chief said on Thursday. General Eduardo Ano said the armed forces had received sketchy reports of a group of Filipinos being driven away from Union Bank in the Spratlys, near Gaven Reef, on which China has built an island.
A Philippines television channel had earlier reported the fishermen had been fired upon, but the military, in a statement, described the events as “alleged harassment”.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion worth of goods pass annually. Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims, and occupy some islets and reefs in the Spratly archipelago.
Philippine authorities are trying to locate the fishermen, believed to have returned to land, who have been encouraged to report to police or coastguard officials. — Reuters

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