Burma and Russia to Increase Military Cooperation

By Yan Pai 21 November 2013

Burma and Russia are seeking to cooperate on military technology and strengthen relations between the two nations’ armed forces, the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces, met with a delegation led by Alexander Vasillievich Fomin, the joint chairman of Russia-Burma Military Technological Cooperation, in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday and discussed a number of areas in which the two countries are looking to increase bilateral military ties.

The push for deeper Burma-Russia cooperation on military affairs follows Min Aung Hlaing’s visit to Russia in June of this year, during which he made observational trips to a MiG jet fighter plant and a facility where anti-tank missiles, air defense weapons and artillery shells were produced.

Notably, Min Aung Hlaing’s Russia trip coincided with a trip made by Tay Za, a Burmese tycoon who is believed to be involved in the purchase of Russian-made weapons and helicopters for Burma’s armed forces. Tay Za was said to have made the trip along with other Burmese businessmen.

Tay Za also reportedly visited Kazan, the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan, a federal subject of Russia, late last month.

However, according to sources close to Burma’s military circle in Naypyidaw, apart from Tay Za’s Htoo Group of Companies, a large construction company based in Mandalay with links to Min Aung Hlaing will likely be involved in a future arms purchase from Russia.

Although Burma’s armed forces have begun to restore relations with the United States and Britain, the opportunity to purchase military hardware from the Western nations does not appear to be a likely near future prospect. Some military observers predict that given the continued embargo, Burma may bolster its armed forces by buying from Russia.

Despite the United States lifting broad economic sanctions and taking select tycoons in Burma off its blacklist, Tay Za remains one of the most powerful tycoons barred from doing business with US firms. According to sources in diplomatic and business circles, the United States is unlikely to remove Tay Za from its blacklist due to his suspected continued involvement in procuring arms for Burma’s military.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy in Rangoon at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), Derek Mitchell, the US ambassador to Burma, said the US was recalibrating its sanctions to target individuals involved in arms procurement and nuclear dealings, those with links to North Korea, and opponents of Burma’s reform process.

“We have been easing sanctions and we have been reorienting sanctions to be more targeted….to focus on those individuals we think are not working in the interests of or for reforms in the country. And that includes those who are working with military and business enterprises. We are watching very closely,” Mitchell said.

Asked whether Washington planned to keep Tay Za on the blacklist, the ambassador said he could not comment on individual cases. However, he said the United States is now reviewing the list of Burmese tycoons who are still on the US blacklist.

“What we are doing is looking at the entire list, and making evaluations of individuals according to criteria in terms of whether they are connected to military businesses [or have a] history of land confiscations, whether they are demonstrating fundamental commitment to the reforms,” Mitchell said.

Tay Za was an arms broker for Burma’s ex-military regime, helping to buy military hardware from Russia. That arrangement is believed to have endured beyond the junta, which ceded power to a nominally civilian government in 2011.

Additional reporting by The Irrawaddy reporter Saw Yan Naing.