Myanmar Junta Chief Visit to Moscow Seen as Shoring of Support Amid Condemnation For Coup
Observers say Min Aung Hlaing hoped to obtain recognition and a new channel for securing arms.
A visit by Myanmar’s junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing to Russia this week is likely part of a bid to secure recognition and military equipment from Moscow amid widespread international condemnation of his overthrow of the democratically elected government, analysts said Wednesday.
Min Aung Hlaing arrived in Moscow on June 20 to attend a three-day international security conference, marking his second trip abroad since he ordered Myanmar’s military to orchestrate a takeover of the Southeast Asian nation on Feb. 1.
The junta alleges that a landslide victory by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the country’s November 2020 elections was the result of voter fraud. But it has yet to provide evidence for its claims and has responded to mass protests against the coup with violent crackdowns that have claimed at least 877 lives and resulted in more than 5,000 arrests.
Despite facing criticism of his rule at home and abroad, Min Aung Hlaing told a news conference in Moscow that the military under his control is working to reform what he called a “degraded” democracy in Myanmar.
On Tuesday, the junta leader met with Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who called Myanmar “a time-tested strategic partner and a reliable ally” and praised Min Aung Hlaing for improving the country’s military. Shoigu said Russia plans to expand ties with Myanmar, with a particular focus on “cooperation in the military and military-technical field.”
Shoigu and Min Aung Hlaing last met during a January visit by the Russian minister to Myanmar, 10 days before the coup. At the time, observers questioned why Shoigu would hold private talks with the military chief without meeting with then State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi or President Win Myint, who were re-elected for a second term in November.
Min Aung Hlaing’s trip to Moscow follows a visit he made to Jakarta, Indonesia in April to attend an emergency summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called in response to ongoing violence in Myanmar—one of the bloc’s members. At the conclusion of that summit, he agreed to a framework that would end the bloodshed in his country, but few of the measures have since been implemented.
Asked why the junta chief would attend a security conference in Russia when his country is mired in chaos, Thein Tun Oo, the executive director of the pro-military Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the visit was to “build diplomatic relations” and had nothing to do with the current situation in Myanmar.
“Military cooperation with Russia is a really important international issue, especially for peace in the Asia-Pacific region, which will be important to Myanmar in the future,” he said.
“Myanmar and Russia are also strategic partners in military cooperation for the region. This is an international concern, and our internal affairs are not that important.”
Thein Tun Oo noted that Myanmar and Russia have signed a military alliance agreement and suggested that Min Aung Hlaing’s visit would further economic and security cooperation between the two nations going forward.
Successive military regimes in Myanmar have enjoyed long-standing relations with Russia and the former Soviet Union. Defense cooperation has notably increased in recent years, with Russia providing various kinds of military training to the junta, scholarships for thousands of soldiers to attend Russian universities, and arms sales.
In search of support
However, other analysts suggested that the junta chief was likely on a mission to shore up what little international support he can gather for his unpopular regime.
The U.S. and the EU have recently imposed visa bans on high-ranking members of Myanmar’s military—including Min Aung Hlaing—citing human rights abuses in the country, while the U.N. General Assembly recently condemned the coup and adopted a resolution on prevented the flow of arms to the junta.
“At a time when the United Nations has decided to curb the flow of arms and many countries are putting pressure on the junta, I see [Min Aung Hlaing] trying to build better ties with and obtain more support from China and Russia, which already have given him much support,” said Sai Kyi Zin Soe, a political and human rights researcher.
“He’s not thinking of protocols or anything, but to get continued support from them,” he said, adding that the other aim is likely “to restore a path for the flow of arms.”
Political analyst Than Soe Naing said Min Aung Hlaing personally attended the meeting in Russia—usually attended by defense ministers—because he sought international recognition.
“Actually, this is not a meeting for heads of state, it is a meeting of defense ministers,” he said.
“When the chief of the regime attends instead of the defense minister, it means he’s seeking international recognition. He wants this recognition so badly that he had to attend a meeting of ministers—a level lower than his.”
The analyst added that Min Aung Hlaing has been relying heavily on China for military assistance since taking power, and likely hoped to obtain a channel for equipment from Russia as well.
Attempts by RFA to reach Zin Mar Aung, the foreign minister of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), for comment on the visit went unanswered Wednesday.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.