Pariah solidarity between Myanmar and Russia

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by JAN SERVAES

BRUSSELS: On August 3, 2022, residents of Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw, were suddenly awakened by the sound of military helicopters in the air. Helicopters hovered over the city all day. The path to the regime’s foreign ministry was also blocked for hours.

Although they did not know the reason, it suggested that someone important was coming to Naypyitaw. They had no idea who the visiting dignitary was as all communications were also down. But Russian media reported that their country’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was on his way to Naypyitaw.

Lavrov’s visit comes as the junta has sparked renewed international outrage with the recent executions of four opponents, including a former lawmaker and prominent human rights activist, in the first use of the death penalty in the country for decades. Lavrov had previously visited Naypyitaw in 2013.

Prime Minister Min Aung Hlaing has visited Russia several times since 2013, most recently in July. However, he has yet to meet the country’s president, Vladimir Putin.

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The international response to the Myanmar coup and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a toxic convergence between the two “pariah” nations, Sebastian Strangio concludes in The Diplomat on August 5.

“A Loyal and Loyal Friend”

The regime’s foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, designed a working lunch for the Russian launch at the Aureum Palace Hotel, owned by U Teza, the chairman of Htoo Group of Companies, a leading brokerage of Arms transactions between the military of Myanmar and Russia.

After the meeting, the regime said it “supports[s] the two sides in the multilateral arena on mutual trust and understanding. Wunna Maung Lwin expressed “deep gratitude to the Russian Federation, a true friend of Myanmar, for its constant support to Myanmar, both bilaterally and multilaterally.”

Later, Lavrov met with regime leader Min Aunging at the presidential residence, which has been renamed the Office of the State Administrative Council (SAC) since last year’s coup. Min Aung Hlaing said Russia and Myanmar established diplomatic relations in 1948 and planned to celebrate their Diamond Jubilee next year.

Lavrov praised Myanmar as a “friendly and long-term partner”, adding that the two countries “have a very solid foundation to build cooperation in a wide range of fields”. He said the Russian government stood “in solidarity with the situation”. in the country.” He also wished success to the State Administrative Committee (SAC) in the elections he intends to organize in August 2023 in order to officially legitimize the seizure of power.

Calling Russia a “faithful and faithful friend” is not wrong. In fact, Russia (along with China) has been loyal in supporting the regime on the UN Security Council. As permanent members of the council, these two key nations used their veto power to avoid targeting the Myanmar regime.

In his comments, however, Lavrov made no mention of the junta’s daily air raids on civilians. After all, these state-of-the-art fighter jets and helicopters are Russian-made.

Reporting on the meeting between Lavrov and Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s official Global New Light newspaper wrote about the ambitions of the two nations to become “permanent friendly countries and permanent allies” who will help each other “to manage their affairs. internal without external interference. .”

This may sound cynical, “as Myanmar looks more like Syria or South Sudan every day”, the meeting between Lavrov and Min Aung Hlaing was more like a handshake of “partners in crime”.

Lavrov left for Cambodia on Wednesday afternoon to attend the meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Myanmar’s foreign minister has been banned for failing to implement the five-point consensus plan of April 2021.

ASEAN special envoy Prak Sokhonn, who has made two trips to Myanmar since the coup, tempered expectations of major short-term progress: “I don’t think even Superman can solve the problem of Myanmar”.

Russia’s main arms supplier to the junta

To date, Russia is the main supplier of arms to the Burmese army. Russia has been accused by human rights groups of selling the regime many weapons it has used to attack civilians since last year’s coup. Moscow has supplied fighter jets, helicopters and air defense systems to Myanmar, and it is no secret that the regime’s leaders prefer Russian military equipment to China.

Moscow has so far viewed Naypyitaw primarily as a military and technical partner, with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu leading efforts to position Russia as the main supplier of advanced weapons to Myanmar. Russia has also provided postgraduate training to at least 7,000 Myanmar officers since 2001.

In addition to military ties, Shoigu also sees benefits in securing a highly committed partner where South Asia and Southeast Asia meet, in addition to Russia’s longstanding partnerships with India. and Vietnam. Until recently, economic and non-military trade relations between the two countries have remained modest, but appear to be deepening.

Moscow now also wants to expand its diplomatic, economic, trade and security relations with Myanmar. When Russia invaded Ukraine, the junta was one of the first to support the Kremlin. The junta spokesman said Russia is still a powerful nation that plays a role in preserving the balance of power for world peace.

In recent months, the two countries have established direct banking and financing channels to support increased bilateral trade, including Myanmar’s purchase of Russian energy products.

Indeed, following the coup, major oil and gas multinationals – including Total, Chevron, Petronas, Woodside and Eneos – announced their withdrawal from Myanmar, and the regime is eager to find replacements to develop and operate new and existing gas fields. .

Russia’s Rosneft, which has conducted limited onshore oil and gas exploration in Myanmar for a decade, said in April 2021 it planned to drill test wells.

A hug or a chokehold?

As noted in an International Crisis Group (ICG) briefing published on August 4, the coup in Myanmar and the war between Russia and Ukraine have pushed the two sides into a strong mutual embrace.

Russia has tirelessly supported the junta since it took power; it was one of the few countries to send representatives to the March 2021 Armed Forces Day parade – which coincided with a violent crackdown on anti-coup protesters – and continued arms deliveries in Myanmar.

At the same time, the SAC has expressed its strong support for Russia since the invasion of Ukraine. Even though Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations, who has pledged to support democratic resistance, voted in favor of resolutions condemning Moscow’s aggression.

The day after the invasion, a spokesman for the junta declared that the invasion was “justified for the permanence of the sovereignty of their country”. possible cooperation on energy projects.

“Faced with tougher international sanctions and diplomatic isolation, the two countries are actively exploring ways to strengthen their security and economic ties,” the ICG briefing said. This toxic convergence is inevitable: Increasingly isolated from the West, Myanmar’s military regime in Moscow has sought advanced weapons systems and technical training for military officers who may soon find it hard to get elsewhere to reduce the strong dependence on the “neighbouring country” China, which has also chosen to recognize the SAC government.

For Russia, closer relations with Myanmar offer an opportunity to increase arms sales, while undermining Western efforts to form a global coalition to counter Russian adventurism in Ukraine. Given their mutually beleaguered state, the ICG notes, Myanmar and Russia are “likely to ignore the potential long-term downsides of their growing relationship in favor of short-term benefits.”

No return ?

Myanmar’s regime is isolated and faces sanctions and condemnation at home and abroad. He has also struggled over the past year to crush armed resistance. Since the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has also faced Western sanctions and is waging a long and costly military campaign there. As the two countries become more heavily sanctioned and diplomatically isolated, the importance of their mutual relationship has grown.

Min Aung Hlaing has clearly chosen to sow total destruction. He has sent government leaders to jail, including deposed State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Last month he ordered the execution of prominent activists, including a lawmaker. There seems to be no turning back for the diet.

Jan Servaes was Unesco Chair in Communication for Sustainable Social Change at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has taught international communication in Australia, Belgium, China, Hong Kong, the United States, the Netherlands, and Thailand, in addition to short-term projects at approximately 120 universities in 55 countries. He is the editor of the 2020 Handbook on Communication for Development and Social Change.

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