Specials

A Timeline of Russia’s Relations With Myanmar Junta Since the Coup

By The Irrawaddy 15 February 2023

As Russia-Myanmar relations turn 75 years old this month, the ties between the two countries have never been closer since the military came to power via a coup in 2021. With both countries facing international isolation, their cooperation is no longer confined to their militaries, as in the past, but now includes nuclear technology, business and tourism among others. Since the takeover, regime chief Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy Soe Win and other cabinet members as well as Russian delegations have shuttled between Moscow and Naypyitaw nearly 30 times as of Feb. 6, when Myanmar opened its first nuclear information center with Russia’s support. Here is a timeline of relations between the two countries since the coup.

2021

March 26: While the international community including the West is condemning the military regime, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin arrives in Naypyitaw to attend the 76th Anniversary of Armed Forces Day.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin with the regime’s Defense Minister General Mya Tun Oo during the Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyitaw in March 2021.

The coup leader shows the colonel general swords, axes and slingshots which he describes as home-made weapons being used by those trying to create instability in Myanmar. He promises to build stability and discusses cooperation between the two armies. In an interview with Russian news agencies, the coup leader reveals his plans to promote Myanmar-Russia economic ties. The Russian deputy minister attends the Armed Forces Day parade the following day, so publicly recognizing the junta.

May 20-22: Myanmar Air Force chief General Maung Maung Kyaw attends the HeliRussia exhibition, Russia’s largest helicopter exhibition, in Moscow. His trip is part of a goodwill visit to promote Myanmar-Russia ties. Some two weeks before the General attends the exhibition, the ethnic armed group the Kachin Independence Army shot down a junta helicopter.

June 20:  Min Aung Hlaing embarks on a week-long visit to Russia to attend a conference on international security in Moscow, his first visit to the country since the coup.

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing takes part in the MCIS in Moscow on June 23, 2021. / Cincds

The visit comes just days after the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a halt in arms sales to Myanmar in response to the regime’s violent crackdown on peaceful anti-coup protesters.

During his trip, the coup leader grants interviews to TV stations Russia 24 and RIA, visits military academies, arms manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and government officials including the Russian Defense Minister. The Russian Military University confers an honorary professorship on Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. After the ceremony is shown on Myanmar’s state broadcaster, it prompts Myanmar people to troll the coup leader for looking awkward in an oversized academic gown.

Russia promises to continue cooperation with Myanmar’s military in the fields of defense and science and technology. The two sides vow to cement ties in various other fields.

Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Moscow in June 2021 / Cincds

The coup leader also travels to Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia, to visit helicopter, watercraft and automobile plants. He holds talks with Tatarstan President Rustam Nurgaliyevich Minnikhanov and discusses opportunities to boost bilateral trade and investment and cooperation in the sectors of natural gas exploration, manufacturing and education.

Min Aung Hlaing has visited Russia numerous times. Despite that, Russia’s President Putin has never received the Snr. Gen. However, President Putin did meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in China in 2019  and former President U Htin Kyaw during his visits to Russia in 2016.

Aug. 24: A Myanmar military delegation led by General Maung Maung Aye, chief of the general staff, attends the International Military Technical Forum “Army 2021” and participates in the International Army Games.

The general holds talks with Russian army officers to acquire air defense systems. Russia sells an additional US$2.3 billion worth of weapons during his trip, according to Russian news agencies.

Sept. 1-7: Deputy army chief Vice Snr. Gen. Soe Win attends the closing ceremony of the International Army Games. The junta’s deputy leader meets civilian and military officials during his week-long visit, and holds talks to bolster military, technical and cultural cooperation between Myanmar and Russia, reports junta-controlled newspapers.

Regime deputy leader Vice Snr Gen Soe Win during his Russian trip in September 2021 /Cincds

The Myanmar tank team is ranked third in the tank competition at the International Army Games, but fails to attract the support of the Myanmar people. Influential Buddhist monk Sitagu Sayadaw accompanied Vice Snr. Gen. Soe Win on his Russia trip.

Sept. 5: The junta’s planning and finance minister attends the 6th Eastern Economic Forum in Russia and holds separate talks with the Director-General of Interstate Corporation for Development and the Chairman of the Russia-ASEAN Economic Council. According to junta-controlled newspapers, Russian businessmen are interested in investing in the production of value-added agricultural produce, electricity generation, crude oil exploration and port industries in Myanmar.

Oct. 24: A Russian military delegation led by the deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, Vice Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov, arrives in Yangon to attend the two-day science and technology conference at the Defense Services Academy. It is the second visit of a Russian Navy leader after the Russian Navy chief’s visit to Myanmar in June.

The conference discusses science and technology, disaster management, information technology and communications and transportation technology.

Oct. 27: Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing meets representatives of the Russia-Myanmar Association for Friendship and Cooperation to discuss Russia’s potential investment and cooperation in the production of fuel, natural gas, cement, steel fertilizer, electricity supply and electric public transport in Myanmar, as well as the running of direct flights between the two countries and cooperation in the tourism, health, education and culture sectors.

This indicates that the coup leader is relying on Russia to realize his unrealistic plans such as the running of electric buses and trains and the domestic production of fertilizer, cement and steel to try and cut expenditure on imports.

Moreover, the planning and finance minister and the governor of the Central Bank of Myanmar also hold talks with a delegation from the Russia-Myanmar Association for Friendship and Cooperation on the progress in establishing a Russia-Myanmar financial cooperation committee. The military’s mouthpiece Myawaddy TV is also airing propaganda, describing Russia as a superpower. The regime is already taking steps to restart No. 2 Steel Mill (Pinpet) in Taunggyi in Shan State, which was suspended under the now ousted NLD government due to the environmental impact and problems with commercial viability.

Oct. 29: The coup leader visits the visiting Russian Warship Gremyashiy at Thilawa Jetty in Yangon and meets the deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Vice-Admiral Vladimir Kasatonov and delegation members on board. The Snr. Gen. was accompanied by navy and air force chiefs.

The two sides discuss the exchange of maritime technology and information and technical cooperation to build warships. The Gremyashiy with 115 Russian military personnel on board arrives at Thilawa Port on October 28 and stays for three days.

2022

Jan. 13, 2022: The Russian ambassador to Myanmar provides 400,000 doses of Spuntnik Light COVID-19 vaccine to the regime as a gesture of Russia-Myanmar friendship, and holds talks with the junta-appointed health minister on strengthening cooperation in the health sector.

April 29: Faced with diplomatic isolation for his coup, Min Aung Hlaing rolls out the red carpet for the visit of Rustam Minnikhanov, the head of Tatarstan, one of the autonomous regions of Russia. Junta media refers to Minnikhanov as “president of Tatarstan”—an area with fewer than 4 million people—in their reports and newscasts, and Min Aung Hlaing receives him in front of Sihasana Palin, or the Lion Throne, the symbol of sovereignty, as if he were the legitimate head of state of Myanmar.

Pic 2 Min Aung Hlaing receives President of the Republic of Tatarstan Rustam Minnikhanov in April 2022. / Cincds

June 15-18: Five ministers of the military junta attend the 25th International Economic Forum in Russia’s St. Petersburg and ask for Russia’s help as Myanmar is facing a fuel and electricity crisis. The junta’s foreign economic relations minister, U Aung Naing Oo, invites the Russian Energy Ministry to invest in Myanmar’s energy sector, and junta Electricity And Energy Minister U Thaung Han holds talks with Russian government and private businessmen on cooperation on electricity production in Myanmar. Vice Governor Daw Than Than Swe of the Central Bank of Myanmar holds talks with a Russian state-owned bank on direct payments between the Russian ruble and Myanmar kyat, according to junta media.

July 10-16: Junta boss Min Aung Hlaing makes his second visit to Russia since the coup to consecrate a replica of Bagan’s Shwezigon Pagoda in Moscow. He is accompanied by high-profile Buddhist monks Sitagu Sayadaw Ashin Nyanissara and Dhammaduta Ashin Chekinda. The pagoda was funded by business tycoon and arch-crony U Aung Ko Win and his wife.

Min Aung Hlaing consecrates a replica of Bagan’s Shwezigon Pagoda in Moscow.

Min Aung Hlaing is only received by the deputy foreign minister of Russia during the visit. He visits Russia’s state-run nuclear corporation, Rosatom, which signed a memorandum of understanding with the junta’s Science And Technology Ministry on provision of training in atomic energy production in Myanmar.

Min Aung Hlaing meets officials of the Russian Defense Ministry and Russian-Myanmar Association for Friendship and Cooperation. He also visits some universities and Kazan Helicopters, a Russian helicopter manufacturing company based in Kazan in Tatarstan.

Aug. 3: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov drops in to Naypyitaw to meet junta chief Min Aung Hlaing as he flies to Phnom Penh to attend the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. He thanks the Myanmar junta for backing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Min Aung Hlaing also suggests relocating the Russian Embassy from Yangon to Naypyitaw, and the opening of consulates in Myanmar. The Russian foreign minister’s visit comes amid growing international pressure on the regime in the wake of the junta’s executions of four political prisoners including prominent democracy activists Ko Jimmy and Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw / Cincds

Aug. 27-29: Deputy junta chief Soe Win attends the closing of the International Army Games 2022, and holds talks with the Russian deputy defense minister on cooperation between the two armies.

Regime deputy chief  Soe Win attended the closing ceremony of the International Army Games-2022 at the Convention Center of Moscow in Russia. / CIncds

Sept. 6: Faced with a leading question from Russian news agency RIA about whether he would welcome Russian Defense Ministry delegations and accept Russian military bases on Myanmar’s territory for the sake of “geopolitical balancing”, Min Aung Hlaing replies that while the Myanmar constitution does not allow deployment of foreign troops on Myanmar’s soil, ways could be sought to find out how to best cooperate within the framework of the army-drafted 2008 Constitution.

Sept. 7: Min Aung Hlaing praises Vladimir Putin as “a leader of the world” as he is granted his first audience with the Russian president at a foreign investment forum in the Russian Far East. Putin calls Myanmar “a reliable long-term friend” of Russia.

During the trip, the junta signs an initial agreement with Rosatom on implementation of a small modular reactor project in Myanmar.

The junta and Russia also discuss operating direct flights between the two countries for promotion of tourism, and wider economic cooperation including in oil and gas, and banking sectors.

Min Aung Hlaing and Russian President Vladimir Putin

Oct. 9: Russian business owners attend the Myanmar Jade and Gems Emporium in Naypyitaw for the first time.

Oct. 13-15: Junta Electricity Minister U Thaung Han and Energy Minister U Myo Myint Oo attend the Russian Energy Week International Forum in Moscow, and hold talks with Russian companies on cooperation in the energy sector.

Nov. 9: A Russian trade delegation from Fund RC-Investments, an investment platform of the Roscongress Foundation, sent by Putin on a special mission to promote commercial ties with Myanmar, meets junta boss Min Aung Hlaing and his ministers in Naypyitaw. They hold talks on promotion of trade and exports of Myanmar products to Russia, and the monetary systems of the two countries.

A Russian trade delegation from Fund RC-Investments, an investment platform of the Roscongress Foundation, sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin on a special mission to promote commercial ties with Myanmar, meets junta boss Min Aung Hlaing. / MWD

Nov. 14: Former Navy chief and admiral Tin Aung San, in his capacity as an SAC member and the junta’s transportation minister, attends the 16th International Forum and Transport Week in the Russian capital, Moscow.

Nov. 19: Min Aung Hlaing confers the honorary title of Sithu on Russian Defense Minister Army General Sergey Shoigu, the Thiri Pyanchi title on Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Alexander Fomin, and the Outstanding Administrative Award (First Class) to Alexander Ostrovsky, an expert at the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation of Russia.

Nov. 23: Amid criticism, the junta’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy and Rosatom sign a memorandum of understanding to conduct a survey on the construction of nuclear power plants in Myanmar.

Nov. 23-24: A Russian delegation comprising pro-rectors and faculty heads visits junta-appointed International Cooperation Minister U Ko Ko Hlaing, Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin and Education Minister Dr. Nyunt Pe from Nov. 23-24 to discuss offering more scholarships for Myanmar students to Russian universities, selecting Myanmar lecturers for Russian government scholarships in 2023, cooperation on enhancing the quality of the junta-run Naypyitaw State Academy, and an exchange of Burmese and Russian language teachers. Since 2000, Russia has trained more than 7,000 Myanmar military officers for master’s degrees and doctorates.

Nov. 29: A Russian military delegation arrives in Myanmar and meets junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw, marking the first high-level meeting between the two sides since Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in September.

The Russian delegation comprises around a dozen senior military officers, led by Colonel-General Alexey Kim, first deputy commander of Russian Ground Forces. The two sides focus on cooperation in defense and counterterrorism between their two militaries, saying this would contribute to “regional and global peace”.

Colonel-General Alexey Kim, first deputy commander of Russian Ground Forces, meets with Myanmar regime chief Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw. / Cincds

Nov. 30: The Russian delegation attends the first meeting of the Myanmar-Russia Anti-Terrorist Committee, jointly chaired by Colonel-General Kim and Myanmar’s Lieutenant-General Moe Myint Tun. The junta does not reveal what was discussed at the meeting.

Dec. 2: The junta’s Hotels and Tourism Minister Dr. Htay Aung and Russia-based Yi Ling Tourism Co. Ltd. meet in Naypyitaw and discuss flights and travel insurance for Russian tourists, and the facilitation of Russian-currency payments.

Dec. 5: Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov visits Naypyitaw where he meets Min Aung Hlaing and discusses technical cooperation in arable and livestock farming, mining, and iron and steel, pharmaceuticals and energy production.

Russian Economic Development Minister Maxim Reshetnikov with Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw / Cincds

The Russian minister signs seven agreements with Myanmar business owners. No details are provided by the junta but Russian state news agency Tass reports that the deals include a joint protocol on trade, disease control, education and science.

Dec. 6: Russia’s overseas trade organization, JSC Tyazhpromexport, meets with Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw to discuss Russian technical assistance for development of iron and steel production in Myanmar.

Dec. 13: Deputy junta chief Soe Win receives deputy director general Nikolay Spasskiy of Rosatom in Naypyitaw, and discusses the feasibility of planned projects to be jointly conducted by Rosatom and the junta’s Electricity and Energy, and Science and Technology ministries.

2023

Jan. 30: Russia-Myanmar Association for Friendship and Cooperation President Anatoly Bulochnikov meets junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyitaw and discusses tourism and trade between the two countries.

Min Aung Hlaing receives a delegation led by the vice chairman of the Russia-Myanmar Association for Friendship and Cooperation in Naypyitaw in January 2023. / Cincds

Amid international condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine, junta-controlled newspapers feature an article hailing him as a world leader who has rejuvenated and revitalized Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Russian Embassy in Myanmar reposts the article on its Facebook page.

Feb. 1: With the regime reshuffling its governing body, the SAC, following its six-month extension of emergency rule, Min Aung Hlaing’s classmate from the Defense Services Academy, retired Major General Aung Thaw, becomes the Hotels and Tourism Minister. He also chairs Myanmar’s branch of the Myanmar-Russia Friendship Association.

Feb. 4: The Russia-Myanmar Association for Friendship and Cooperation and business owners in Myanmar sign deals relating to the Ngapali beach resort in Rakhine State, cooperation in the tourism industry, and coffee production.

The Russia-Myanmar Association for Friendship and Cooperation and business owners in Myanmar sign deals relating to the Ngapali beach resort in Rakhine State, cooperation in the tourism industry, and coffee production in February 2023. / Cincds

Feb. 6: Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing presides over the opening of Myanmar’s first Nuclear Technology Information Center in Yangon. Director-General Alexey Likhachev of Russia’s state-run nuclear corporation Rosatom also attends the opening.

The opening ceremony of Nuclear Technology Information Center of Myanmar is held in Yangon.
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