Myanmar junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing told Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to move the Russian Embassy from Yangon to the capital Naypyitaw, according to Russian state media the TASS news agency.
Russia’s foreign minister arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday for a working visit and met his Myanmar counterpart and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw.
Lavrov’s trip was the second high-profile visit by a foreign government since last year’s coup, following the January visit of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and foreign minister Prak Sokhonn.
Min Aung Hlaing suggested moving Russia’s Embassy to Naypyitaw and opening a consulate in Mandalay, according to TASS.
He also suggested that Myanmar open consulates in the Russian cities of St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk. “We need new institutions for diplomatic contacts so that we can increase travel between our countries,” Min Aung Hlaing was quoted by TASS as saying.
It is not yet clear how Russia will respond to Min Aung Hlaing’s proposal.
Lavrov met the junta boss ahead of attending the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
The military regime’s top diplomat, U Wunna Maung Lwin, has been excluded from the ASEAN meeting, after the junta sparked fresh international outrage last week by executing four political prisoners including a former lawmaker and a veteran democracy activist.
“We stand in solidarity with the efforts [by the regime] to stabilize the situation in the country,” Lavrov reportedly said in his meeting with U Wunna Maung Lwin.
The two foreign ministers discussed strengthening economic cooperation, defense and security ties and the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Myanmar, said sources in Naypyitaw.
There were reports ahead of Lavrov’s visit to Myanmar that the regime is interested in acquiring BrahMos supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles manufactured by BrahMos Aerospace, a joint Russian-Indian venture, with a loan from the Indian government.
After China, Russia is a major arms supplier to the Myanmar regime and the two countries have become closer since the 2021 coup that has thrown Myanmar into chaos.
Lavrov’s visit comes two weeks after Min Aung Hlaing traveled to Russia on an unofficial trip during which he visited weapon factories.
Russia has sold six SU-30 fighters that can use BrahMos anti-ship cruise missiles to Myanmar. Two fighters were handed over to the Myanmar military before the Armed Forces Day in March last year, with Russian pilots training their Myanmar counterparts.
David Scott Mathieson, an independent researcher on conflict and peace in Myanmar, said that the visit of Russia’s foreign minister is a sign that Moscow will continue to sell arms to the regime as long as it can pay for them, which is bad news for resistance forces in Myanmar.
Mathieson added that Russia will likely continue to defy the United Nation’s Security Council’s actions and arms embargo on the Myanmar regime.
Russia is important for the isolated junta, which is increasingly relying on air power to crush resistance forces, noted Mathieson. The Myanmar people will continue to suffer from junta air and artillery strikes unless the supply of weapons from Russia is stopped, he added.
Since becoming military chief in 2011, Min Aung Hlaing has visited Russia at least ten times. Observers say that the Russian foreign minister’s visit is a sign that the two countries are looking to promote cooperation in other sectors besides the military.
As part of Russia-Myanmar economic cooperation, operations are set to resume in 2023-24 at the No. 2 steel factory (Pinpet) in Shan State, after the plant was shuttered for over four years.
The plant, located near the Shan State capital Taunggyi, is a joint iron exploitation and processing project between the military-owned Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and the state-owned Russian company Tyazhpromexport. Min Aung Hlaing visited the plant in October last year.
The junta is also trying to join the SPFS (Sistema Peredachi Finansovykh Soobscheniy) bank transfer system run by the Central Bank of Russia, to avoid using the SWIFT (The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) system mainly used by western countries.