Russia seeks stronger military ties with Myanmar amid international condemnation over coup
- Russian state media said deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin called Myanmar a reliable ally and strategic partner of Russia in Asia
- Fomin met junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Friday, a visit that came a day ahead of a parade to mark Myanmar’s prestigious Armed Forces Day
Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, on Friday met junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power in a February 1 coup that triggered weeks of nationwide protests and a lethal response by security forces.
In Naypyidaw, Fomin said Myanmar was a reliable ally and strategic partner of Russia in Asia, state-run TASS said, during a visit that came a day ahead of a big parade to mark Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day, the military’s most prestigious event.
In a video shown on the Russian Defence Ministry’s Zvezda TV, Fomin is seen shaking hands and receiving a medal and a ceremonial sword from Min Aung Hlaing in a meeting room full of military officers in green uniforms.
“You, distinguished Senior General, took part in our parade last year, our parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War,” TASS quoted Fomin as telling the junta leader, referring to World War II. “And this visit of ours – it’s a response to yours.”
The United States, Britain, Australia and the European Union have imposed sanctions on the ruling military council and the army’s vast network of businesses.
Defence ties between Russia and Myanmar have grown in recent years with Moscow providing army training and university scholarships, as well as selling arms to a military blacklisted by several Western countries for alleged atrocities against civilians.
Russia is the source of at least 16 per cent of weaponry procured by Myanmar from 2014-2019, according to a 2020 study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Fears have been swirling that the Armed Forces Day could become a flashpoint, as security forces continue to crack down on activists, protesters and political allies of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Before dawn on Friday, the Yangon offices of her National League for Democracy (NLD) were hit by a Molotov cocktail, which caused a brief fire.
The attack left only minor damage, but the party has been in disarray since the coup, with many of its top leaders including Suu Kyi in detention and some of its MPs in hiding.
“We do not know who did this, but it is not good at all,” said Soe Win, an NLD member in charge of the headquarters.
Yadanar Maung, a representative for campaign group Justice for Myanmar, said Russia was legitimising the junta and called for the international community to impose a global arms embargo.
“Russia is complicit in the military’s campaign of terror against the people,” Yadanar Maung said. “We are appalled that Russian officials are travelling to Myanmar to legitimise the illegal military junta.”
The country has been in turmoil since the military ousted the Nobel laureate in a lightning putsch on February 1, triggering an uprising demanding a return to democracy.
Nearly 3,000 people have been arrested since the coup, according to a local monitoring group, but the junta earlier this week released more than 600 from Yangon’s Insein prison.
On Friday a senior official from the jail, notorious for being the holding site of long-time political prisoners, said another 322 people had been freed. “A total of 249 men and 73 women were released,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Activists issued a call for nationwide protests against the junta on Saturday.
“The time has arrived again to fight the military’s oppression,” prominent activist Ei Thinzar Maung posted on Facebook.
The protest movement has included widespread strikes and civil disobedience by government workers, which has hamstrung the functioning of the state.
This has infuriated the authorities, who have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to break up street demonstrations, and arrested people suspected of supporting the civil disobedience campaign.
Security forces once again Friday deployed lethal arms in the southern city of Myeik against protesters wielding shields and home-made rifles, who moved quickly to carry the injured off the streets, according to AFP-verified footage.
At least three people were killed, including a woman who was in her house, said a resident near the crackdown, who witnessed the melee.
“They shot all the people along the road while they chased to arrest protesters on motorbikes,” he said, saying security forces were still indiscriminately shooting in the area.
Friday’s killings will push the death toll since the coup to more than 320, according to The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group.
To protect themselves from violence, some activists have come up with creative ways to protest, including staging “human-less” rallies, using objects or dummies in place of people.
In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, doctors’ white coats with black ribbons spray painted on them were hung at a medical clinic’s entrance – in apparent mourning for those killed in the unrest.
US ambassador to Myanmar Thomas Vajda on Friday visited the site where 23-year-old Nyi Nyi Aung Htet was shot down last month and laid a wreath of white roses at the spot where he died.
“May we all remember their courage and dedication to a better future for Myanmar,” read its message.