Russian Military Pilots Visit Myanmar as Junta Steps Up Air Strikes
By The Irrawaddy 16 February 2022
Amid increasing junta air strikes in ethnic areas as well as Sagaing and Magwe regions in Myanmar, a Russian military delegation comprising pilots is visiting the country.
The 24-member Russian delegation has been in Mandalay since Jan. 28. Russian pilots have often visited Myanmar to provide aviation training as well as maintain and upgrade aircraft at Meiktila Air Base in Mandalay Region. It is not clear whether the latest visit by Russian pilots is for the same purpose.
On previous visits, Russian pilots lodged at the Royal Mingalar Hotel in Mandalay owned by Dr. Naing Win Par, the son of former Deputy Yangon Mayor Colonel Maung Par. But this time the Russian delegation is staying at the Sunset Palace Hotel, which is owned by the manufacturer of the Seinkhal Shwekhal brand of fish sauce, a figure who has close ties with Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, wife of coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.
Col. Maung Par served as the deputy Yangon mayor under dictator Than Shwe’s military regime, and was a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). He was also the head of the Yangon Region USDA. The association was transformed into a political party to serve as the military’s proxy ahead of the 2010 general election, and became known as the Union Solidarity and Development Party. Maung Par’s son Dr. Naing Win Par owns the Seven Mile hotel group.
Myanmar’s military has bought MiG-29 and Su-30 multi-role aircraft, Yak-130 jet trainer and light combat aircraft, Mi-17 transport helicopters and Mi-24 helicopter gunships from Russia.
The Russian pilots have arrived as the military regime mounts increasingly frequent air attacks on ethnic armed organizations fighting for greater autonomy and on local People’s Defense Force groups that emerged after the military coup last year. The visit also coincides with attacks on the houses of Myanmar junta pilots allegedly involved in junta airstrikes after their names and addresses were leaked on social media.
Myanmar’s bilateral relations with Russia have reached a new level since the coup, regime spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said in August last year. “Russia plays the central part in Myanmar’s air defense systems, followed by China. And the cooperation between the air forces is expanding,” the spokesman told reporters.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Myanmar just a few days before the coup, and pledged to sell air defense weaponry to Myanmar during his visit. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin attended Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyitaw in March.
The Russian navy warship Gremyashiy made a friendly visit to Myanmar in October, and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing met the Russian delegation led by Russian deputy navy chief Vice Admiral Vladimir Lvovich Kasatonov aboard the ship.
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