Military-Ruled Myanmar Hosts Joint Naval Exercise With Russia, Its Close Ally, Top Arms Supplier

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Min Aug Hlaing, center, leader of the ruling military council, attends together with Russian Navy Commander-in-chief Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, center right during the opening ceremony of the first Myanmar Russia Maritime Security Exercise at Thilawa port in Yangon, Myanmar on 6 November 2023. (Photo: The Military True News Information Team)

BANGKOK (AP) — The military-run Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar is holding its first joint naval exercise with Russia, state media reported Tuesday, 10 November, with the countries carrying out maneuvers in the Andaman Sea.

Reports in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said that the maritime security exercise with Russia was being held until Thursday, 9 November, 157 kilometers (85 miles) west of Myeik in Myanmar’s far south. Some Russian navy vessels sailed from Yangon to take part, state television MRTV reported.

The three-day joint drill involves aircraft and naval vessels and focuses on defending against threats from air, sea, and land, as well as other maritime security measures, the reports said.

Russia is a major supporter and arms supplier of Myanmar’s military government, which was installed after the army seized power and ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. Russia defends Myanmar’s military government in international forums, and the ruling generals return the favor by generally supporting Moscow’s foreign policy agenda.

Myanmar has been treated as a pariah state by many Western nations since the military takeover and the violent suppression of protests against it, which has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians and given rise to an armed resistance movement in many parts of the country.

The Global New Light of Myanmar said the head of the military government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, met on Monday with Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s navy, at Thilawa port in the southern part of Yangon. The Russian officer welcomed an inspection by the Myanmar leader, who reviewed a guard of honor and toured one of the Russian vessels.

Min Aung Hlaing was briefed on the capacity of Russian weapons, the installation of modern systems, and an anti-submarine helicopter, the reports said.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. independent investigator on human rights in Myanmar, identified in a report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council in May that USD 406 million in weapons and materiel went to the Myanmar military from Russia, USD 267 million from China, USD 254 million from Singapore, USD 51 million from India, and USD 28 million from Thailand.

Since the 2021 takeover, the report said that 28 Russian private and state-owned companies have transferred fighter jets and their spare parts, advanced missile systems, reconnaissance and attack drones, attack helicopters, and other systems to Myanmar’s military.

As an example of what he called the military’s brutality, Andrews pointed to its April 11 air strike using a Russian Yak-130 fighter jet at a ceremony in northern Myanmar attended by some 300 opponents of army rule. It was quickly followed by an attack by Russian Mi-35 helicopters on those who came to help. He said at least 160 people were killed, including many children.

The joint exercises come at a time when Myanmar’s military is facing the coordinated offensives of pro-democracy resistance fighters and ethnic minority armed organizations that have seized strategic towns in the northern region of Sagaing and Shan State in the east.

Russian-made fighter jets are used in attacks on both resistance fighters and ethnic armed groups.

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This story has been corrected to say that Monday’s ceremony at Yangon port was hosted by Russia’s navy, not Myanmar’s.

BY GRANT PECK Associated Press