After months of preparation Moscow successfully delivered military aid to a budding Southeast Asian ally this week. President Duterte was never coy about his admiration for Russia, going as far as declaring his country’s alignment with the nuclear-armed federation during a trip to Beijing last year. Duterte and his staff went on a state visit to the Russian capital in May but this was cut short by the troubles in Marawi.
On October 20, a Friday, three Russian naval vessels–two destroyers and a tanker–docked in Manila’s port. This goodwill visit happened days before the 11th ASEAN Defense Minister’s Meeting in the Philippines on the 23rd. Two Russian cargo vessels arrived in Subic on that date together with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Duterte, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, and Shoigu were aboard a Russian anti-submarine destroyer on October 25 to inspect an arms delivery.
The ceremony on October 25 marks the latest shipment of weapons to the Philippines this year, providing undeniable proof the Duterte administration wants lasting ties with two other powerful states in the Asia-Pacific. The Philippine government was quick to promote the significance of the arms shipment, which Duterte mentioned in a speech weeks before.
Russia’s first delivery of arms to the Philippines consisted of: 5,000 assault rifles, 5,000 steel helmets, a million rounds of ammunition, and 20 Ural trucks.
There was some confusion on the government’s part regarding the weapons delivered. These were identified as AK-74M’s. But the photos reveal Duterte was presented a row of AKM rifles. It needs to be clarified the AK-74M is the standard rifle of the Russian military and is recognizable for its cylindrical muzzle brake and all black finish. It’s also chambered for the smaller 5.45x39mm round. The AKM’s in Manila, on the other hand, are improved versions of the “classic” AK-47, and came with orange bakelite magazines.
Exactly how this new Russian kit is utilized by the Philippine military is unclear. The dependable AKM is an excellent rifle but the Philippine Army and Marine Corps never deviated from US and NATO standard arms. Even the type of steel helmets supplied by Russia are odd–Filipino soldiers have used Kevlar helmets for years now.
But it’s clear the Philippines is eager to begin long-term cooperation with Russia, whose aggressive foreign policy does have a strong counter-terrorism focus. According to the Department of National Defense (DND) new agreements signed by Lorenzana and Shoigu span “various areas of military cooperation” and include “research, production support…possible exchange of experts and training of personnel for joint programs.” The wording used to describe the substance of the agreements sounds harmless, but Lorenzana did have a separate meeting with the director general of Rosoboronexport. This produced a contract for Russian RPG-7 rocket launchers.
Filipino soldiers used RPG-7’s during the battle of Marawi. These were made in Bulgaria and, with utmost irony, delivered by US planes. The enduring RPG is an affordable replacement for the army’s antiquated recoilless rifles and another batch of RPG’s are rumored to be due from China in the coming months.