Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing visits Russia
The general who ousted Myanmar's democratically elected government arrived in Moscow on an unannounced visit.
By RFA Burmese 2022.07.12 -- Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing arrived in Moscow on Tuesday for what Russia's Embassy in Myanmar called a "private" visit, only two days after U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken vowed to ramp up international pressure on the military regime.
Since Min Aung Hlaing led the military to seize power in Feb. 1, 2021, Myanmar has plunged into a deep economic and political crisis only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the West quickly moved to impose sanctions on the military, both Russia and China have supported the junta.
Russia has continued to supply the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar's military is known, with weapons and helicopters despite its continued and documented crackdown on civilians, killing at least 2,077 since the coup. The military has also launched a wide-ranging military operation in Sagaing region, where anti-junta militias have formed in rural areas. RFA has documented extensive targeting of civilians and the burning of wholesale villages as part of the military's clearance operations in Sagaing.
Min Aung Hlaing notably hosted Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Lt-Gen Alexander V. Fomin in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw in March of last year, less than two months after ousting the democratically elected government.
"[Min Aung Hlaing] plans to take part in the opening of a Myanmar cultural center," the statement from Russia's Embassy in Myanmar said. But Russian state media reported that he would meet with officials from Moscow's space and nuclear agencies. The visit was not heavily publicized by Myanmar's junta-controlled media. It is unclear if Min Aung Hlaing will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin or any other high-ranking Russian officials while in Moscow.
Lin Thant, a representative of the shadow National Unity Government (NUG), told RFA Burmese that Min Aung Hlaing "doesn't have much success in the international arena and so, he would be losing more face by making this trip because the junta leader is one of the few who had supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine while the rest of the world was condemning Russia. I see it as two evils forming an alliance."
An announcement issued by the military on Monday night said the junta leader would attend religious ceremonies at the Shwezigon Pagoda in Ethnomir, a cultural museum in Moscow. It added that Min Aung Hlaing had met with the Chairman of Russia Myanmar Friendship Association and discussed further cooperation in economic and education sectors, tourism, and training for military and civilian officials.
The two sides also discussed electric power generation, nuclear energy production and the latest agricultural methods for oil crops and import-exports matters, the statement added. Russia, for its part, has warmed up to Myanmar's junta since launching the invasion of Ukraine, and Myanmar has launched a recent bid to secure an energy deal from Russia to offset fuel shortages caused by the sanctions.
According to a June 20 report by the pro-military Myanmar Alin Daily, a junta delegation met with Russian Minister of Energy Shulginov Nikolay on the sidelines of the June 15-18 International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg to discuss energy cooperation.
The two sides reportedly held talks on Russian oil drilling in Myanmar and the export of oil and petroleum products, as well as the construction of a nuclear power plant, it said. They also discussed the possibility of direct exchanges of currencies between the two countries' central banks and the purchase of fuel from Russia.
But analysts have repeatedly raised doubts about the extent of Russia's willingness to provide Myanmar with a major energy deal, and the junta's ability to manage it.
Myanmar-based analyst Than Soe Naing said the junta is only in the beginning phase of negotiations with Russia to deal with its ongoing energy crisis and will need to overcome several obstacles before moving towards an agreement that will solve its problems.
"Cooperation with Russia over a nuclear program is unlikely without China's support. In addition, the junta, which is facing a foreign exchange crisis, cannot afford to spend money on nuclear energy," he said.
Translated by RFA Burmese. Written by Nawar Nemeh.
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