Myanmar and Russia’s Close Post-Coup Relationship

By The Irrawaddy 2 November 2021

While the international community continues to condemn Myanmar’s military for overthrowing the civilian National League for Democracy (NLD) government in its February 1 coup, bilateral ties between Myanmar and Russia have strengthened since the military takeover. Now, as well focusing on military cooperation, the two countries are seeking closer social and economic ties.

Although there has been no face to face meeting between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, there have been numerous exchange visits between senior military officers from the two countries. Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and his deputy Vice Senior General Soe Win have both visited Russia since the coup.

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

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Alexander Vasilyevich 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 deputy Russian 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: Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing embarks on a week-long visit to Russia to attend a conference on international security in Moscow, his second visit to the country since the coup.

Coup leader Snr. Gen. 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.

The Military University of the Defense Ministry of Russia confers an honorary professorship on Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing on June 23, 2021. (Cincds)

Snr. Gen. 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.

August 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.

September 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’s 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.

Regime’s deputy leader Vice Snr. Gen. Soe Win during his Russian trip in September 2021. (Cincds)

September 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.

October 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.

October 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.

Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing receives a delegation led by Vice-President Mr Anatoly Bulochnikov of the Russia-Myanmar Friendship and Cooperation Association in Naypyitaw on October 27, 2021.

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.

October 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.

Snr. Gen, Min Aung Hlaing with Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy Vice-Admiral Vladimir Lvovich Kasatonov on board the Russian Warship Gremyashiy on October 29, 2021. (Cincds)

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.

Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing takes the salute of the Guard of Honour on board the Russian Warship Gremyashiy on 29 October 29, 2021.

You may also like these stories:

Grudges and Military Oppression: Key Themes in Modern Myanmar’s Legal History

Myanmar Junta Jails NLD Patron for 20 Years for High Treason

Myanmar Civilian Government Forms Military Command Structure