Myanmar-Russia Relations Blossom Amid Western Sanctions – The Diplomat
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets with Wunna Maung Lwin, the Foreign Minister of Myanmar’s military government, in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on August 3, 2022.
Credit: Twitter/MFA Russia
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov landed in Naypyidaw for meetings with senior members of the country’s military government.
The meeting provided perhaps the most comprehensive understanding of the bilateral relationship that has blossomed against the backdrop of the carnage in Ukraine and the escalating nationwide conflict in Myanmar. Lavrov described Myanmar as a “friendly and long-standing partner” and said the two nations “have a very solid foundation for building cooperation in a wide range of fields.”
Before leaving for Cambodia for this week’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings, Lavrov met with military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin and junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
Crucially, Lavrov said the Russian government was “in solidarity with the efforts aimed at stabilizing the situation in the country,” and used the junta’s code for its ruthless efforts to defeat broad-based opposition to its rule. He also wished the State Administration Committee (SAC) success in the elections it is planning to hold in August 2023 to whitewash its assumption of power into something palatable to the outside world.
“We appreciate the traditionally friendly nature of our partnership, which is not influenced by any opportunistic processes,” Lavrov added.
Reporting on the meeting between Lavrov and Min Aung Hlaing, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar described the two nations’ ambitions to become “permanent friendly countries and permanent allies” who will help each other “manage their internal affairs without external interference.”
These outpourings came on the same day that foreign ministers from the remaining nine ASEAN member states (the junta’s envoy was not invited) met in Cambodia to discuss the crisis in Myanmar, amid growing calls for the bloc to abandon its five-point consensus peace. plan, for lack of junta cooperation.
Relations between Myanmar and Russia have been on the rise for some time. Moscow is a key supplier of weapons to Myanmar’s military, and Russia has provided advanced training to at least 7,000 Myanmar officers since 2001.
But as an International Crisis Group (ICG) briefing released yesterday noted, the Myanmar coup and the Russia-Ukraine war have pushed the two sides into a strong mutual embrace. Russia has provided unceasing support to the junta since it took power; it was one of the few nations to send representatives to the Armed Forces Day parade in March 2021, which coincided with violent crackdowns on anti-coup protesters, and has halted its arms shipments to Myanmar.
At the same time, the SAC has expressed strong support for Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, even as Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN, who has pledged his support for the democratic resistance, has voted in favor of resolutions condemning Moscow’s aggression. The day after the invasion, a spokesman for the junta said the invasion was “justified for the sustainability of their country’s sovereignty.” Last month, SAC chairman and junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing visited Moscow, where he spoke with Russian officials about deeper defense cooperation and possible cooperation on energy projects.
“Faced with stronger international sanctions and diplomatic isolation, the two countries are actively exploring ways to strengthen their security and economic ties,” the ICG briefing said.
There is a kind of inevitability to this toxic convergence: Myanmar’s military regime, increasingly isolated from the West, has looked to Moscow for advanced weapons systems and technical training for military officers that it may soon struggle to get elsewhere, and also a safeguard against also becoming dependent on China, which has also chosen to recognize the SAC government.
For Russia, closer ties with Myanmar offer a chance to boost arms sales while undermining the West’s attempt to assemble a global coalition to counter Russian adventurism in Ukraine. Given their mutually beleaguered state, the ICG noted, Myanmar and Russia “are likely to ignore the possible long-term disadvantages of their growing relationship in favor of short-term advantages.”
All this creates complications for the nations seeking to punish the two governments for their respective transgressions. The ICG briefing said that while there is little these nations can do to stave off this pariah state solidarity, concerned countries should “continue to impose targeted sanctions against Myanmar’s military regime, enforce bilateral arms embargoes and press . [ASEAN] members to continue to exclude the regime from high-level meetings in order to weaken its legitimacy.”