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Two Russian destroyers and a tanker landed in the Philippines for a “goodwill visit” amid growing tensions in the disputed South China Sea.
The destroyers Almirante Tributs and Vinogradov, classified as “large anti-submarine ships,” docked in Manila early Monday, along with Admiral Irkut, a “big oil tanker,” according to the Philippine News Agency .
It is the second time that Russian ships dock in the Philippines this year. In early January, three Russian ships docked in the Philippine capital for what was described as a visit to “improve and sustain the promotion of peace, stability and maritime cooperation.”
The most recent arrival comes just a few months before the two countries sign a naval cooperation agreement, probably in July, which will supposedly involve more joint training exercises and reciprocal visits to ports.
Russia and China have also been approaching in recent years, conducting joint military exercises and signing economic agreements, and both parties claim that relations are at their “best level in history.”
The Russian visit this Monday also occurs in the midst of the joint annual Balikatan exercises between the Philippines and the USA. UU., Which ends on April 12.
The Balikatan drills have more than 7,500 soldiers, furtive F-35B aircraft and include training with real fire and amphibious operations, among other events.
Although the visit of Russian ships does not have the same scale, Moscow’s growing ties with the Philippines and its presence in the region come at a time of greater tension in the South China Sea.
The Philippine government said hundreds of Chinese boats, including some military ships, had been observed around Thitu Island in the Spratly chain, which is controlled by Manila but claimed by Beijing.
The Chinese flotilla began to appear around Thitu in December and January, approximately when Manila began to build in the disputed maritime area.
In a speech on Thursday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned Beijing to leave Thitu Island alone and threatened military action in response to any Chinese aggression.
“Let’s be friends, but let’s not touch the island of Pagasa and the rest,” said Duterte, according to CNN Philippines, using the Filipino word Pagasa for Thitu. “If they make movements there, the story will be different. I will tell my soldiers: ‘Prepare for a suicide mission . ‘ “
China and the Philippines are just two of the many countries that claim large portions of the South China Sea, along with Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. In an attempt to reinforce its claim on the territory, China has built and militarized artificial islands through the important maritime route.
Tensions cooled after Duterte sought a closer economic relationship with Beijing. Manila also went to Moscow in search of support and Duterte changed the ties that previously maintained his country with Washington.