As the world condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Friday, Myanmar military junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun took a different view, telling VOA’s Burmese Service that Russia was acting to maintain its sovereignty, and praising Moscow’s role in balancing global power.
Russian forces on Friday unleashed one of Europe’s largest military offensives since World War II with a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The regime’s support for Moscow is hardly surprising, as Russia is a key supplier of military hardware to the junta, and the two countries have strengthened ties since the military coup in Myanmar in February last year.
Two weeks before the coup, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a two-day visit to Naypyitaw pledging to sell air defense weaponry to Myanmar. It is believed that Myanmar military leaders informed their Russian counterparts of the imminent takeover and sought Russia’s support.
Less than two months after the coup, while the international community including most Western nations were condemning the military regime, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Alexander Vasilyevich Fomin arrived in Naypyitaw to attend the 76th annual Armed Forces Day on March 27, 2021.
On the same day, the regime, known as the State Administration Council, slaughtered more than 100 people across the country, making it the bloodiest single day since the generals seized power.
Shunned by the West, Myanmar military leaders have forged closer ties with Russia, China, Belarus, Serbia, Ukraine, India and Pakistan.
Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing has exchanged numerous visits with senior Russian military officers, though there has been no face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Myanmar coup leader has reportedly made several requests to meet with Putin.
Since the coup, top-ranking military leaders including General Soe Win, deputy commander of the armed forces; then-Air Force chief General Maung Maung Kyaw (who has since been removed from the post); and General Maung Maung Aye, chief of the general staff, have also visited Russia.
Maung Maung Aye held talks with Russian army officers about acquiring air defense systems. Russia sold Myanmar US$2.3 billion worth of weapons during his trip, according to Russian news agencies.
Myanmar military personnel also study at a number of military schools and training facilities in Russia, including the Omsk Armor Engineering Institute, the Air Force Engineering Academy in Moscow, the Nizhniy Novgorod Command Academy and the Kazan Military Command Academy.
While the junta has made clear its position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is not without links to the latter; Ukraine also supplies weapons to the Myanmar military.
The military purchased from Ukraine an estimated 1,000 BTR-3U armored personnel carriers (APCs) to be assembled in Myanmar. And in 2016-17, Ukrainian arms manufacturers reportedly shipped parts for Mil Mi-2 and Mil Mi-17 helicopters, BTR-3U armored personnel carriers, a ship engine, and ship propulsion and radar systems through a local arms dealer in Myanmar.
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