Burma

Moscow Stands by Military Deal with Tatmadaw After US Criticism

By Nyein Nyein 30 January 2018

Russia will abide by a deal to sell military aircraft and provide technical cooperation to Myanmar’s military, Moscow said after the agreement drew criticism from the U.S.

The Kremlin on Friday reaffirmed its commitment to the deal, which was signed on Jan. 20 during Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu’s visit to the country and will see Moscow sell six SU-30 fighter planes to the Tatmadaw. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert earlier urged Moscow to reconsider the agreement. In its response, Moscow said the sale of military equipment to Myanmar was aimed at helping the country boost its defense capability.

Last Friday, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by TASS news agency that “Russia has invariably observed the norms, rules and principles of international law [in the field of military-technical cooperation] and it will continue doing so in the future. It goes without saying that for this reason we cannot pay attention to such accusations [by the United States over supplies of fighter jets to Myanmar].”

In a statement dated Jan. 26 and shared on the Russian Embassy’s Facebook page, Russia’s Information and Press Department said, “At the same time, we believe that military-technical cooperation is a legitimate component of interstate relations, unless it contradicts the decisions of the UN Security Council. Deliveries of Russian military products to Myanmar aim to boost the country’s defense capability. Only a very vivid imagination of our State Department colleagues can perceive a link between this task and the threat of even greater sufferings of civilians.”

The statement adds that Russia continues to be active within the international community’s efforts to facilitate the normalization of the situation in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine state, while respecting the country’s sovereignty and pledging non-interference in its domestic affairs, as well as providing humanitarian aid when requested.

The statement makes the claim that despite the fact that the U.S.’s own military equipment sales to the Southeast Asia region had resulted in destruction and causalities during recent conflicts, “This does not prevent Washington from selling lethal weapons to Southeast Asian countries and building up its military presence in direct proximity to this region.”

Political analysts predicted that with Moscow determined to foster collaboration between militaries, Russia-Myanmar military ties would only continue to deepen.

Ko Ye Myo Hein, the executive director of the Yangon-based Tagaung Institute of Political Studies, said that as Myanmar has been faced with international pressure over the Rakhine State crisis, Russia-Myanmar relations, which have already improved in recent years, would only “strengthen further”.

Russia and Myanmar have enjoyed good relations since the Russian military began selling military equipment to the country in the 2000s. Russia has also invited Myanmar soldiers to study in the country and provided the Tatmadaw with military technology.

“The Myanmar Army has been seeking better military equipment in order to strengthen and modernize, and has found that Russia’s military hardware serves its purposes, as the quality of Chinese military products is not as good as it seemed, although the Tatmadaw relied on China for decades during the period of Western sanctions,” Ko Ye Myo Hein said.

U Ye Tun, a political analyst and former lawmaker from Shan State’s Hsipaw Township, expressed a similar view, saying Myanmar-Russia military ties were likely to deepen in the long term.

The Tatmadaw’s plan to obtain fighter jets has also raised concerns within Myanmar, given its demonstrated willingness to use aerial bombing, most recently in Kachin State. Aerial bombing and mortar shelling killed at least four people and displaced and trapped over 3,000 local residents in Tanai and Sumprabum townships earlier this week.

U Ye Tun said the Tatmadaw’s current round of procurement for its Air Forces was more related to the crisis in Rakhine State, as the Army needs to build its capacity, rather than for deployment against other ethnic armed groups.

“The approaches taken by Russia, China and India toward Myanmar in regard to the Rakhine State crisis is different from the West, because they understand Myanmar. Their interventions are more directly aimed at reducing tensions. But we see a totally different approach from the US,” he said.

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