Rodrigo Duterte left on Tuesday for a five-day trip to Moscow, where he will meet with his idol, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, to broaden and deepen bilateral relations with a country considered to be the archrival of the Philippines’s long-time security ally and former colonial master.

Duterte’s second visit to Russia will include a trip to the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, for a gathering of leaders of other countries with strong ties with Moscow. It will be a display of the Philippines’s dramatic shift in foreign policy that veered the country away from Western democratic states and toward authoritarian regimes.

There’s nothing wrong with the Philippines’s efforts to pursue a more independent foreign policy and to diversify its security and economic relations to get the best of everything, and in taking advantage of the country’s strategic location in the Asia-Pacific region to benefit from rival powers – Russia and the United States as well as China.

However, there are disturbing reports from the defense and military establishments over the unplanned procurement of military hardware from Russia’s Rosoboronexport, its main arms dealer. Rosoboronexport was sanctioned by Washington to punish Moscow’s involvement in the Syrian conflict as well as the invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Sources from the defense department and from the Philippine Air Force said Duterte’s government was finalizing a deal with Moscow for the acquisition of 16 Mi-17i medium-lift helicopters worth more than P12 billion through government-to-government negotiations, which could affect the 15-year, P139-billion modernization program approved in the previous administration.

Russia offered to sell the rotary aircraft after Duterte’s decision last year to scrap a deal with Canada for the supply of Bell412i helicopters. A Canadian minister had criticized the Philippines’ human rights record and questioned how the combat utility helicopters would be used. Canada didn’t want the choppers deployed for counter-insurgency operations.

The defense and military establishments went back to the drawing board and ordered another bidding for utility helicopters. Russia joined the bidding but lost to the American-licensed, Polish-manufactured Black Hawk choppers.

So many were surprised to hear that the Duterte government was pushing through with the acquisition of the Russian helicopters after the contract for Black Hawk choppers was signed early this year. There was no public discussion on the Russian acquisition, except reports that Russian embassy officials and Rosoboronexport excutives went to Malacañang a few weeks ago to push for the deal.

Many wondered how the deal went through because the acquisition of 16 Mi-17i choppers did not pass through the normal bidding process, and the G-to-G negotiations were completed on record time before the president’s trip to Moscow. There were very few details about the deal (an extra helicopter was promised as a sweetener) and where funding would come from. Money earmarked for combat utility helicopters had been committed and obligated.

The cost of the helicopters is another story. The big question really is how the Philippines will pay for the equipment when no foreign bank will accept a letter of credit for a company sanctioned by the US government. How will the Philippines skirt the sanction imposed by Washington? What will be the mode of payment for the helicopters?

This was not the first time the Philippines transacted with Rosoboronexport. Last year, the military bought hundreds of rocket propelled grenades (RPG-7) despite the sanctions. But the deal involved an insignificant amount and the United States could ignore the transaction.

This time, the deal can no longer be ignored because the equipment will directly compete with an American product. It’s too early to tell how Washington will react to the deal since it has been the country’s major defense supplier, providing small arms, communications and surveillance equipment, and drones. In the past, the US transferred second-hand aircraft and vessels, including three former coast guard cutters that are now the most capable warships in the Philippine fleet.

Duterte’s government might be risking not only potential military aid from its security ally but also its long-term alliance. Pentagon and State department officials have warned that the Philippines could hurt its “special relations” with the United States if the deal with Russia pushed through.

Last month, Duterte issued a directive suspending negotiations for loans and grants from 18 countries that supported Iceland’s United Nations Human Rights Council resolution to look into the Philippines’ human rights situation. Some of the countries, particularly those from the West, are also among the country’s top defense suppliers.

Although the United States is not among the countries affected by the ban, the directive could boost the arms deal with Russia and with other countries not on the list, like Turkey, Indonesia, South Korea and Israel.

Russia has been offering to sell weapons, as well as aircraft and vessels, to the Philippines since the 1990s, but the Americans usually blocked the deals. During the presidencies of Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Moscow offered to trade aircraft for bananas, pineapples and tuna to help Manila, which had limited budget for new and modern equipment.

During Corazon Aquino’s presidency, the Americans tried to block the sale of Simba armored vehicles in favor of its second-hand V-150 armored carriers. But Washington was unsuccessful. The Americans were more successful during Arroyo’s regime when they sold 10 second-hand UH-1H helicopters. Only seven were delivered due to inflation, and the choppers were not even in good condition.

Duterte might have learned his lesson from the experiences of his predecessors, but the Americans have shaped up and provided brand-new equipment for free since 2017, like Scan Eagle drones and Hercules C130 installed cameras and surveillance equipment.

The president’s generosity to Putin was probably meant to repay the Russian leader’s token donation in 2017, toward the end of the Marawi conflict when thousands of rifles and a few army trucks were delivered during the visit of the Russian defense minister, who attended the annual Asean Defense Ministers’ Meeting in Clark airfield.

Thus, Duterte is bringing precious gifts to Putin on his second visit to repay for a token donation.