Myanmar’s Min Aung Hlaing meets Putin for first time since coup

Meeting between leaders underlines the two nations deepening relationship after Myanmar coup and Ukraine invasion.

Min Aung Hlaing in white civilian clothes sitting in a large gilded chair while speaking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Naypyidaw in August, has finally secured a long-coveted meeting with President Vladimir Putin [File: Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via AP Photo]

Myanmar’s military chief and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing has held his first, and long-awaited, meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a further sign of the deepening ties between the two sanctions-hit countries.

Min Aung Hlaing, who seized power from Myanmar’s elected government in a coup in February 2021, has visited Russia twice since the coup — most recently in July — without securing an audience with Putin.

He finally did so on Wednesday on the sidelines of the Moscow-organised Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), which is taking place in Vladivostok, Russia’s most-eastern city.

“Our relations are developing positively,” the RIA news agency, quoted Putin as saying during the talks. Putin is only the second foreign leader to meet Min Aung Hlaing since the military’s power grab.

Myanmar was plunged into crisis by the coup, which triggered large-scale protests and a nationwide movement of civil disobedience. More than 2,000 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on its opponents, and the regime’s refusal to follow a regional plan to end the violence, as well as international sanctions, have left it increasingly isolated and looking to deepen its partnerships with long-term allies such as Russia.

Moscow, meanwhile, is also under pressure over its invasion of Ukraine that started six months ago.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar said the chairman of the self-styled State Administration Council met Putin adviser Anton Kobyakov on Tuesday night, publishing photos on its front page of the two delegations sitting opposite each other at a long table.

Russia’s deputy minister for defence Alexander Fomin and senior military officers from Myanmar were also present. Fomin was an honoured guest at Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day in March.

The delegations discussed “building good relations as good friends between the Russian Federation and Myanmar and (the) two armed forces,” the newspaper said, noting that 2022 marked 75 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

The talks also covered wider economic cooperation including direct flights between the two countries to boost tourism and the oil and gas trade.

Myanmar had announced in August plans to import Russian fuel oil to ease a supply crunch. In Vladivostok, Min Aung Hlaing told Putin that Myanmar was ready to pay for the imports in Russian roubles.

Russian military support, particularly for the air force, has also been crucial in the generals campaign to crush resistance from anti-coup armed groups, known as the People’s Defence Forces, as well as more established ethnic armed organisations which have been fighting for political autonomy for decades.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, told the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year that Russia was one of three states to have supplied weapons to Myanmar since the coup, despite their use against civilians. The others were China and Serbia.

The military took control of Myanmar the day that the country’s new parliament was due to convene for the first time since the November 2020 elections, which were won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s civilian leader, was the first to be detained and faces a series of cases in secretive military courts where she has already been found guilty of a number of offences and jailed for a cumulative 20 years.

Source: Al Jazeera