On the day Russia launched a full-scale illegal invasion of Ukraine, Burmese military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun was quick to express the junta’s unflinching support of its key ally.
In an exclusive interview with VOA Burmese News, the general expressed that the military believed Russia’s actions to be “the right thing to do for Russia to consolidate its sovereignty,” and suggested that Moscow was now “showing the world that it stands as a powerful nation in the global balance of world peace.”
In contrast, and in line with much of the rest of the international community, the acting president of the NUG, Duwa Lashi La, strongly condemned “the unprovoked attack on Ukraine,” adding that Russia’s actions “undermine the UN Charter and international law.”
Always a close friend of the military behind the scenes, Russia has long provided arms, military tech, and training to Burma’s officers and cyber warfare operatives.
Since the coup, however, Moscow has emerged as the SAC’s leading backer; in a June visit to Moscow (one of the only foreign cities that has welcomed Min Aung Hlaing since the coup), Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, spoke of “deepening military ties” with the junta. At the time, rumors spread that Moscow’s Military Maritime Fleet was courting the junta for a port in the Bay of Bengal.
A foreign executive working in Burma’s hospitality sector told DVB: “Whilst it was formerly rare to meet a Russian in Burma, the hotels and bars are now full of them. There was a period shortly after the coup where a Russian naval delegation was in town for many weeks — it is clear that they now have broader aims with regards to the country”.
In September, the SAC’s second-in-command, Soe Win, paid a return trip to Russia, allegedly to sign US$2.3 billion worth of military contracts, including the purchase of an air defense system.
In late January of this year, a Russian vessel was pictured unloading a consignment of BRDM-2M 4X4 armored vehicles, and shipping containers full of other toys-for-the-boys, at Yangon’s Thilawa port.
Certain Ukrainian firms have also been singled out for their links to the Burmese military. In September, activists Justice for Myanmar published a report suggesting that a number of Ukrainian firms had facilitated arms exports and technology transfers to the military over recent years.
The status of the bilateral arms trade with Ukraine since the coup is unclear — Kyiv has since spoken out against the military’s attempted takeover, whilst also voting in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution to stop the flow of arms to the Tatmadaw in June of 2021.
The Burmese military continues to carry out airstrikes against civilian areas on an almost daily basis, relying heavily on Russian aircraft and ammunition.