Junta Watch: Myanmar Military ‘Not Worried’ as World Shuns Main Supplier Russia

By The Irrawaddy 5 March 2022

Russia sanctions send chill through Naypyitaw

Military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun during a press conference. / The Irrawaddy

Myanmar junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told the BBC that the regime might have some difficulties purchasing arms from Russia after the U.S., European Union and Canada announced on Feb. 26 that key Russian banks would be excluded from the SWIFT interbank messaging system in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The move will harm the banks’ ability to operate globally.

Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun did his best to downplay the development, saying it did not worry the regime because its contacts with Russia date back to the days when Myanmar was under the previous military regime and sanctioned by Western governments, adding that the junta maintains communication channels with Russia to procure arms and spare parts from it.

Despite the spokesman’s apparent lack of concern, however, sources tell The Irrawaddy that Myanmar generals who have bank accounts in Russia—as well as the military cronies who act as intermediaries between Russian arms manufacturers and the regime—are extremely concerned about the latest developments in relation to Russia.

On Feb. 26, the regime held an emergency meeting to discuss the implications of the Russia-Ukraine crisis on Myanmar, according to a source. The junta has voiced support for Russia since the invasion began on Feb. 24.

Min Aung Hlaing pledges boost for farmers while destroying their lives

Aerial view of Thapyayaye Village, Sagaing Region, which was reduced to ashes in a junta arson attack on Feb. 28. / Myauk Yamar PDF

In his message to mark Peasants’ Day on Wednesday, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said he attached great importance to improving the socioeconomic conditions of the country’s farmers—an astonishing claim given that his forces, acting on his orders, have torched villages, farms, fields and silos, and conducted deadly air raids  in Sagaing and Magwe regions, the country’s agricultural heartland.

Thanks to Min Aung Hlaing, tens of thousands of farmers from those regions have had to flee and many have been left homeless after their houses were burned down in junta raids. Many dare not return to their villages to harvest their crops for fear of junta soldiers and pro-junta Pyu Saw Htee militias.

Recently, almost all the houses in Thabyayaye Village in Sagaing Region’s Yinmarbin Township were reduced to ashes in junta arson attacks. And nine civilians were killed in Chin Pone Village in the same township. Junta troops and Pyu Saw Htee militias also torched villages in Magwe Region’s Gangaw, killing seven villagers.

Undeterred by the arbitrary killings and arson attacks, many farmers in Magwe and Sagaing regions marked Peasants’ Day by expressing their opposition to the military regime.

Power cuts go from bad to worse

A few months after the coup last year, Min Aung Hlaing revealed his wild economic plans for the country, including creating a metro rail system and launching fleets of electric buses. But one year after the coup, far from getting around in electric vehicles, Myanmar people can’t even use their electric fans to cope with the searing heat of the hot season.

Many places across the country including the commercial capital Yangon have reported longer electricity blackouts, from around three hours previously to more than six hours a day since last week, with people and businesses being seriously affected by power cuts.

Power cuts strike seemingly at random; people do not know when the electricity will be cut off and when it will return. This has reminded many of former military dictator Than Shwe’s era, when blackouts were so common that people would burst into applause when the electricity came back on. Businesses ranging from SMEs to factories are facing various difficulties as a result of the outages.

Myanmar people realized they were in for a long power crisis when they saw an advertisement placed in the March 2 issues of local newspapers by the junta’s Electricity Ministry announcing an open tender to supply a diesel-run electricity generator for its office.

At a regime meeting on the development of the capital, Naypyitaw, on Aug. 17 last year, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing instructed officials to create a neat, smart, green city with an underground metro rail system and electric buses for residents. But nearly seven months after he unveiled his big dreams, the fact that even his administrative seat is in need of a generator has become a grim joke among Myanmar people.

Russian Embassy raps ‘incorrect’ reporting on Ukraine

The Russian Embassy released a statement on March 3 saying that several articles published by Myanmar media sources are based on faulty information regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Though many countries and even many Russians themselves have condemned the invasion, the embassy in its statement described it as a “special military operation”.

It said the Russian army does not attack civilians or cities, targeting only military infrastructure, that nuclear sites in Ukraine are safe and secure as confirmed by the IAEA, and that Russian military personnel together with the National Guard of Ukraine would ensure the safety of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plants.

The embassy apparently ignores the fact that scores of civilians were killed by Russian missile strikes on Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine; this was widely covered in international media. Though the embassy said the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is safe, Ukraine claims that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant caught fire after it was shelled by Russia. The fire has been extinguished and Russian forces have taken control of the plant, international media reported. The statement of the Russian Embassy is in fact similar to those of the Myanmar junta (which supports Russia’s war on Ukraine), in that it is completely at odds with reality.

Junta blames Ukraine people for Russia’s aggression

The Myanmar junta has reiterated its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin less than a week after his invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, blaming the invasion on Ukraine’s people.

In a commentary published in its Burmese-language mouthpieces Myanma Alin and Kyemon on Feb. 27 and 28, the junta accused the US of being primarily responsible for modern-day aggression.

The commentary put the blame on the Ukrainian people, saying they are responsible for what is happening now because they chose the wrong leader for themselves.

Calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a puppet of the West, the commentary argues that he is incompetent and irrational—failings it says have cost the lives of many Ukrainians.

The regime also accused the US and its NATO allies of plotting to pit Russia and Ukraine against each other.

The commentary at the same time praises Putin as a leader of vision who had the foresight to quietly build up his country’s military and economic strength. 

While Min Aung Hlaing is persecuting them with military hardware it obtained from Russia, the Myanmar people are showing their support for the efforts of their Ukrainian counterparts to repulse Russian forces.

You may also like these stories:

Myanmar Junta Denies Medical Treatment to Political Prisoners

Both Sides Sustain Casualties as Fighting Rages Between PDFs and Myanmar Junta

New ASEAN Envoy to Myanmar Says He Wants to Meet Junta Opponents