Myanmar’s Crisis & the World

Myanmar Junta in Spotlight After Zelensky Barred from ASEAN Summit

By The Irrawaddy 11 November 2022

Myanmar’s military regime is thought highly likely to have vetoed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s video statement at the ongoing Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

The bloc banned Zelensky’s statement from airing at the summit after its 10 member states failed to reach consensus on the matter, said the Khmer Times, citing the Ukraine embassy in Vietnam.

The four-day ASEAN summit started on Thursday in Phnom Penh under the rotating chairmanship of Cambodia.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had reportedly agreed to Zelensky’s request to deliver his statement at the summit amid Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Consensus is a bedrock principle for ASEAN, meaning just one member can veto the bloc’s decision. Myanmar’s military regime is one of 10 members of the bloc.

It was not known which member state prevented the Ukrainian president from speaking via video at the summit. But indirect evidence points to Myanmar’s junta, given its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as its growing ties with Moscow.

Myanmar has been engulfed by violence since the coup in February last year, while the junta has been shunned by the world’s democracies for atrocities against civilians resisting military rule. The junta so far has killed more than 1,400 people.

In the wake of international rejection, the regime has cozied up to Russia – one of its main arms suppliers along with China. Both countries have stood by the regime in the UN Security Council, nullifying other states’ efforts to take action against the junta. The past few months have seen closer ties between Naypyitaw and Moscow in sectors ranging from nuclear technology to tourism.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, a regime spokesperson commented that Moscow had acted to consolidate its sovereignty, saying “I think this is the right thing to do.”

Russia is the only country in the world visited by junta boss Min Aung Hlaing since his coup last year. He has so far made three visits to the country since the putsch.

At their first meeting, in September, the coup leader hailed Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as a “a leader of the world”, praising him for leading the Ukraine invasion and bringing “stability” to the international arena.

It is very clear that Myanmar’s military regime does not want its powerful ally embarrassed by seeing its enemy speaking at the ASEAN summit, even via video. In other words, Min Aung Hlaing had to show gratitude towards Russia by vetoing Zelensky’s statement.

It should be noted that despite being banned from bloc summits, including this one, Myanmar’s regime is still an ASEAN member and thus retains its de facto veto. The junta has been barred from meetings since last year for failure to respect ASEAN’s five-point peace plan for Myanmar.

Similar fate

The people of Myanmar and Ukraine are both fighting for their freedom against powerful enemies – the military regime and Russia respectively. (In a notable contrast, though, Ukraine’s resistance has won international military support while Myanmar’s has received none.)

The axing of Zelenskyy’s video address is the latest example of the shared fate of Myanmar and Ukrainian people, after a pre-recorded speech by Myanmar’s civilian National Unity Government (NUG) was blocked from airing at a Global Town Hall 2022 meeting last week.

The speech by NUG Foreign Minister Daw Zin Mar Aung was dropped at the last minute by organizers after the UN complained that agreeing to its inclusion would amount to taking sides in Myanmar’s conflict.

The last-minute prompted widespread criticism, including from Timor Leste President and Nobel peace laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, one of the participants in the town hall.

He confirmed the UN had demanded the exclusion of the Myanmar pro-democracy spokespersons.

Writing on Facebook, President Ramos Horta said the UN had betrayed Myanmar, adding that the meeting’s organisers could have simply disinvited the UN speakers instead of unceremoniously dumping spokespeople for Myanmar’s legitimate government.

“This way the UN would have maintained its dubious pious ‘neutrality’ in a war where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed, tortured, or imprisoned,” he said.