MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia wants to strengthen military ties with Myanmar, state media reported on Friday, after a meeting between senior defence officials and a junta condemned by Western countries for killing hundreds of civilian protesters.
Russia’s deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, met in the capital Naypyitaw on Friday with junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power in a Feb. 1 coup that triggered weeks of nationwide protests and a lethal response by security forces.
Footage of the meeting from Myanmar state television MRTV on Friday showed the two men inspecting a table displaying makeshift shields, motorcycle helmets, and unlit petrol bombs – purportedly used by demonstrators.
The items were described by MRTV as “handmade weapons confiscated during riots”.
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 uniformed military officers.
“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 Two.
“And this visit of ours – it’s a response to yours.”
The visit is the firmest sign yet of Russia’s support for the new military rulers in Myanmar, amid outrage in the West and deep concern among its Asian neighbours, some of which have condemned the violence against civilians and urged the restoration of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.
Min Aung Hlaing, according to MRTV, told Fomin he was grateful for the visit “amid our political transformational situation and the COVID-19 pandemic”.
At least 320 people have been killed in the crackdown on dissent since the Feb. 1 coup, activist groups say. [L1N2LO05L]
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 to thousands of soldiers, 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% of weaponry procured by Myanmar from 2014-2019, according to a 2020 study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
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.”
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow and Fanny Potkin in Singapore; Writing by Martin Petty, Editing by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan)