On Thursday, the Russian guided missile cruiser Varyag arrived in Manila for a four-day port call, a symbol of President Rodrigo Duterte's push to forge new ties with Moscow and Beijing.
“It’s a training opportunity, we can also view their technology as part of our modernization,” said Philippine Navy spokesman Captain Leo Ramon Miado at the arrival ceremony.
The Varyag is the Russian Pacific Fleet's flagship, and she is accompanied by the fleet oiler Pechenga. The vessels are the second and third Russian Navy ships to call Manila this year, after the visit of the ASW destroyer Admiral Tributs in January. A Russian warship just 40 nm from Subic Bay – once the site of a massive American military base – could serve as a reminder of the uncertain status of Philippine-U.S. relations: President Duterte told Chinese officials last year that he had "separated" from Washington, adding that "I will be dependent on [China] for a long time." He told the press that "America has lost" its relationship with Manila, and at one point he suggested that former President Barack Obama should "go to hell."
In the run-up to the Varyag's port call, Russia offered to help the Philippine Navy with anti-terrorism and anti-piracy training, a first for Russian cooperation with Manila. At roughly the same time, AFP officials said that upcoming U.S.-Philippine military drills have been downgraded from the large-scale combat exercises of years past, to be replaced with a disaster relief scenario. “We are safe to say there will be no more live fire exercises. [We will] focus on humanitarian and civil assistance,” said spokesman Major Celeste Frank Sayson.
While outward signs point to shifting alliances, Duterte's comments since the inauguration of President Donald Trump suggest that his government may be moderating its stance towards the U.S. – especially regarding cooperation on anti-terrorism. "As we fought together to stay above the enemy [in WWII], so we should help each other to address the threats that confront our societies, our region, and our world," Duterte said at a joint U.S.-Philippine memorial service for veterans of Bataan.