Russia-Ukraine Crisis Prompts Myanmar Junta Emergency Meeting

By The Irrawaddy 1 March 2022

Myanmar’s military regime held an emergency meeting on the Russia-Ukraine crisis in the capital Naypyitaw on February 26, to discuss how the conflict in Eastern Europe might affect Myanmar, sources told The Irrawaddy.

At the meeting, the regime assumed that Myanmar faces the risk of invasion by its neighbor China, just as Ukraine has been invaded by its neighbor Russia.

While the junta is convinced that Beijing would not invade Myanmar in normal times, it is concerned that the superpower would take matters into its own hand if and when Myanmar’s military is incapable of protecting Chinese interests in the country. The regime believes that Chinese investments are increasingly being targeted by resistance groups.

Beijing has numerous existing and planned projects in Myanmar including an oil and gas pipelines project, which is thus far the biggest Chinese project in the country.

The project spans nearly 800 kilometers, comprising twin pipelines running in parallel from the port of Kyaukphyu in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State through Magwe and Mandalay regions and northern Shan State before entering China’s Yunnan Province.

China is also working to establish the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, which is part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. The estimated 1,700 kilometre-long corridor will connect Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, to Mandalay, Yangon and the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone in Rakhine.

Beijing also has influence over ethnic armed groups based in Shan State.

Last month, an off-take station of the China-backed oil and gas pipelines in Mandalay Region’s Natogyi Township was damaged when a resistance group attacked regime forces guarding the facility.

China has urged Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Government to ensure its resistance movement does not harm Chinese investments in Myanmar, following a January attack on electricity pylons supplying the China-backed Tagaung Taung nickel-processing plant in Sagaing Region’s Tigyaing Township.

At the February 26 meeting, the regime decided to tighten security at the sites of China’s special interests in Myanmar, including along the oil and gas pipelines, a source who asked for anonymity told The Irrawaddy.

Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Regime spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun has told the Voice of America radio network that the junta supports the invasion.

“Number one is that Russia has worked to consolidate its sovereignty. I think this is the right thing to do. Number two is to show the world that Russia is a world power,” the regime spokesman was quoted by VOA as saying.

On February 25, China, along with India and the United Arab Emirates, abstained in a vote on a United Nations draft resolution condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Russia, which is one of the largest arms suppliers to the Myanmar military, is now facing sanctions from Western countries because of its invasion.

The European Union has closed its airspace to Russian aircraft since Sunday. The United States, European allies and Canada agreed on Saturday to remove key Russian banks from the interbank messaging system, SWIFT, meaning targeted Russian banks will not be able to communicate securely with banks beyond its borders.

As a result, the Russian ruble has fallen significantly against the US dollar.

Myanmar generals who have bank accounts in Russia and Myanmar cronies who act as intermediaries between Russian arms manufacturers and the military regime are extremely concerned about the latest developments in Russia, sources told The Irrawaddy.

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