Sergei Lavrov’s Day in Myanmar: A Chopper Escort and Lunch at an Arms Dealer’s Hotel

By The Irrawaddy 5 August 2022

Naypyitaw residents awoke on Wednesday morning to see military choppers hovering in the sky.

The road to the regime’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Myanmar capital was blocked for hours. Though they didn’t know the reason, the strangeness of the sight suggested that someone important was on their way to Naypyitaw. They had no idea who the visiting dignitary was due to an information blackout put in place by the regime for the visitor’s safety.

But Russian media reported that their country’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was on his way to Naypyitaw.

As soon as Lavrov landed in the sweltering capital, the Myanmar regime implemented security measures unprecedented for a visiting foreign dignitary.

The Russian minister was greeted at the airport by Myanmar’s deputy foreign minister and the director general of the Foreign Ministry’s Strategic Studies and Training Department. The director general, U Zaw Phyo Win, is the son-in-law of former dictator Than Shwe.

As the Russian minister’s convoy made its way to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it was escorted by two military choppers—one on either side—according to diplomatic circles.

The choppers hovered above the city for the entire day.

As the place where regime chief Min Aung Hlaing resides, Naypyitaw is considered the most secure location in Myanmar. Nonetheless, the coup leader provided excessive security measures for Lavrov, probably as a show of gratitude for Russia—along with China—taking steps to block any action at the UN Security Council against the regime. The visitor seemed to be pleased with the way he was treated.

Sergei Lavrov’s Day in Myanmar: A Chopper Escort and Lunch at an Arms Dealer’s Hotel

Following a meeting between Lavrov and his Myanmar counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the regime said both parties “cordially exchanged views on promotion of bilateral relations and cooperation and reaffirmed their commitment to enhance cooperation between the two countries in the multilateral arena based on mutual trust and understanding.”

It said the Myanmar minister expressed “his deep appreciation to the Russian Federation, a true friend to Myanmar, for the consistent support rendered to Myanmar both bilaterally and multilaterally.”

Lavrov responded with his thanks to Myanmar for backing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying, “We are in solidarity with the efforts [by the junta] aimed at stabilizing the situation in the country.”

Political observers remarked that it was nothing more than a meeting between two countries that have been shunned internationally for their atrocities.

Russia, a major ally and arms supplier of the Myanmar junta, has been accused by rights groups of selling the regime many of the weapons it has used to attack civilians since last year’s coup.

Lavrov’s visit comes after the junta attarcted renewed international outrage with the recent executions of four democracy activists, including a former lawmaker and a prominent democracy activist, in the country’s first use of capital punishment in decades.

Lunch at Aureum Palace Hotel

Wunna Maung Lwin hosted a working luncheon for the Russian delegation at the Aureum Palace Hotel, which is owned by Myanmar crony Teza, one of the main brokers of arms deals between the Myanmar military and Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and Myanmar regime leader Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw on Wednesday / Russian MFA

Lavrov then met regime leader Min Aung Hlaing at the Presidential Residence, which has been renamed by the junta boss since last year’s coup as the “Office of State Administration Council” and become his workplace.

In the residence’s Credentials Hall, where President U Win Myint once met international dignitaries before he was ousted along with the National League for Democracy (NLD) government, Min Aung Hliang tried his best to assume the air of a “legitimate head of the state” as he welcomed the Russian foreign minister.

During the meeting, the coup leader reiterated his worn-out reasoning for the coup, accusing the NLD of massive vote fraud in the 2020 election.

Observers saw the Russian visit as a sign of support for the junta, which has been strenuously condemned for its post-coup atrocities against civilians and the recent executions of the democracy activists. They feared the Russian support would push Min Aung Hlaing to commit endless brutality against civilians.

Lavrov previously visited Naypyitaw in 2013.

Min Aung Hlaing has been to Russia eight times since 2013, most recently in July. He has yet to meet the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, however.

In pictures released by his office, the Myanmar junta boss seemed elated to welcome one of Putin’s ministers. He even told him to move the Russian Embassy to Naypyitaw from Myanmar’s former capital, Yangon.

Lavrov left for Cambodia on Wednesday afternoon to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers’ meeting—from which the junta’s foreign minister was excluded over its failure to implement the bloc’s peace plan for the country.