11 July 2024

AFP – Russia backs the Myanmar junta’s efforts to “stabilise” the crisis-wracked country and hold elections next year, its foreign minister said in talks with top generals on Wednesday, according to Russian state media.

The Southeast Asian nation has been in turmoil since the putsch last year, with the junta accused by rights groups of committing war crimes as it struggles to crush resistance to its rule.

Isolated internationally and with Western governments imposing sanctions, the military government has sought to deepen ties with major ally and arms supplier Russia — whose invasion of Ukraine it has said was “justified”.

“We are in solidarity with the efforts [by the junta] aimed at stabilising the situation in the country,” Sergei Lavrov said during talks in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, according to the TASS news agency.

“Next year, you will hold legislative elections and we wish you success,” Lavrov added, referring to proposed August 2023 elections that opponents of the coup have said will be neither free nor fair.

On Monday junta chief Min Aung Hlaing — who travelled to Moscow last month — said polls could only take place when the conflict-wracked country was “stable and peaceful”.

The putsch has sparked renewed fighting with established ethnic rebel groups in border areas, while dozens of civilian “People’s Defence Force” militias have also sprung up to battle the military.

Russia — along with ally China — has been accused by rights groups and a UN expert of arming the military with weapons used to attack civilians.

Lavrov and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing also discussed opening new consulates “to promote an increase in travel” between their two countries, TASS said.

The junta has yet to comment on Lavrov’s visit.

Lavrov is scheduled to travel on to an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers’ meeting in Cambodia from which the junta’s top diplomat has been excluded.

The bloc joined a chorus of international outrage last week after the junta announced it had executed four prisoners, including a former lawmaker and a democracy activist, in the country’s first use of capital punishment in decades.

– ‘Disappointed and disturbed’ –

ASEAN has been growing increasingly frustrated at Myanmar’s lack of progress on a five-point peace plan agreed last year.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen — the current ASEAN chair — on Wednesday warned Myanmar against further hangings.

He said the regional bloc was “disappointed and disturbed” by last month’s executions, and that the further use of capital punishment would mean a “rethink” of the five-point peace plan.

Isolated on the international stage, the junta has turned increasingly to allies including China and Russia.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing was in Moscow on a “private” visit in July and reportedly met with officials from Moscow’s space agency Roscosmos and nuclear agencies.

In Naypyidaw, Lavrov said Roscosmos would build “new infrastructure” in Myanmar in cooperation with the junta.

The army has justified its power grab by alleging massive fraud during the 2020 elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) trounced a military-backed party.

Last year, it cancelled the results of the polls, saying it had uncovered more than 11 million instances of voter fraud.

International observers said the voting was largely free and fair.

More than 2,100 people have been killed in a military crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitor.