Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has arrived in Myanmar on an official visit that Moscow said will include discussions with the military administration on security and economic issues, the Russian news agency TASS reported.
Russia is a key supporter and arms supplier to Myanmar’s military, which seized power in February last year from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Lavrov met the military-appointed Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, and other officials shortly after his arrival in the capital, Naypyidaw, on Wednesday, Russia’s foreign ministry wrote on Twitter.
Lavrov gave no sign of any change to Moscow’s stance towards the country, which he described as a “friendly and longstanding partner”, adding that the two nations “have a very solid foundation for building up cooperation in a wide range of areas”.
“We appreciate the traditionally friendly nature of our partnership, which is not affected by any opportunistic processes,” Lavrov said, adding that Russia and Myanmar are linked by decades of cooperation.
Myanmar’s ruling generals have become increasingly isolated on the international stage and subjected to economic and political sanctions because of the coup and their violent crackdown on those resisting their power grab.
Myanmar has been in a state of increasing crisis since army chief Min Aung Hlaing led the coup last year, triggering a mass civil disobedience movement and nationwide protests. The military’s crackdown has prompted some to take up arms, joining forces with ethnic armed groups that have long battled for greater political autonomy.
United Nations experts have described the country as being in a civil war.
Some 2,148 people have been killed in the crackdown since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which is tracking the military response.
Thousands have been arrested, and about 70 political prisoners in the country are facing a death sentence. Last week, the military authorities hanged four activists in the first use of the death penalty in Myanmar since the 1980s.
Top arms supplier
Despite calls from many nations for an arms embargo on Naypyidaw, Russia remains Myanmar’s top arms supplier.
Russia and China, the ruling military’s other major ally, have been able to stymie coordinated international sanctions because of the veto power they hold as members of the United Nations Security Council.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Lavrov’s visit will see both sides discuss prospects for the entire complex of Russia-Myanmar relations, including political dialogue, trade and economic cooperation, defence and security, and humanitarian ties.
Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Bangkok, said Myanmar relies on Russia for supplies of advanced weaponry, including fighter jets.
“Myanmar has also seen in Russia a seller of arms and weapons, including high-powered jets which it’s using to fight against insurgents and rebels that oppose its rule, not only in the border regions but also in central Myanmar,” Cheng said.
“But it’s a difficult time for Myanmar,” Cheng added, noting that foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations are meeting in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.
Some member states have reacted with horror to the recent executions and are pushing for the group, which has included Myanmar since 1997, to take a tougher line with the coup leaders. Lavrov will travel to the meeting after his visit to Myanmar.
Myanmar’s absence from ASEAN
The military administration has been banned from sending its senior representatives to ASEAN for its violent repression of anti-coup protests and failure to implement the so-called five-point consensus, which was agreed at a special summit with Min Aung Hlaing in April 2021.
“ASEAN has to deal with challenges of different types and levels but never before, never like this year, have we been confronted at the same time with so many perils for the region and the world at large,” Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn told the delegates before the meeting.
Cambodia currently holds the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN, which also includes the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Brunei in addition to Myanmar.