Myanmar’s military usually marks Armed Forces Day with a grand parade in the country’s capital when the Commander-in-Chief, Senior Lieutenant General Min Aung Hlaing – in full costume – inspects his troops from a military vehicle. four-wheeled vehicle with a roof.
Last year, as generals celebrated the occasion with their usual pomp, security forces across the country launched deadly attacks on protesters protesting against last month’s coup. Two, kill about 160 civilians in just one day.
This year, they are facing accusations from the United Nations and others of violations brutality that amount to crimes against humanity. The US, UK and Canada all announced new sanctions on Saturday – targeting arms dealers and air force.
But the military did not let their international isolation dampen the mood.
It has been preparing for Sunday’s parade for several weeks, and it looks like Russia – a country outcast following the February invasion of Ukraine – will once again be the guest of honor.
“[Russia and Myanmar] closely related and very important. Tom Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said Russia has been a steady supplier of weapons and the authorities have traveled to Moscow to see the weapons and meet military officials. Russian arms dealers and agents”.
Along with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin, who attended the parade in 2021, a number of Russian pilots will demonstrate the new fighter jets recently purchased by the military, underlining the increasingly close relationship. close ties with Moscow, the country’s largest source of arms. .
In fact, the Myanmar military was one of the few troops to defend the Kremlin after the invasion of Ukraine, describing the attack as an “appropriate action” against the VOA Burma news network.
In one report before the United Nations Human Rights Council at the end of February, Andrews identified Russia as one of three countries – the remaining ones being China and Serbia – that have supplied weapons to Myanmar since the coup, although they used against civilians.
While arms exports from Russia and China show no signs of slowing down, Serbia, which delivered missiles and ammunition soon after the military took power, said it would stop all future purchases. .
Belarus, India, Pakistan, Ukraine, South Korea and Israel were also included in the report for selling military equipment to Myanmar prior to the coup.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which provides data on international arms trade, shows that arms sales between Myanmar and these countries peaked around 2018-2019, but declined shortly before generals in power.
Other countries have not ended ties either, with Japan continuing to train officers and officer cadets, according to Human Rights Watch, according to Human Rights Watch.
However, while the Myanmar military’s arsenal includes weapons and equipment from many countries, Russia remains its top defense partner.
Justice for Myanmar (JFM), a group that advocates for the right to investigate military investments in the country, on Sunday disclosure a list of 19 Russian arms suppliers that have supplied equipment to the military, calling for them to be punished.
While the ties go back a long time, they have become especially important to the regime since the coup when the military overthrow Myanmar’s elected government and arrest civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since then, the military has cracked down on the people of Myanmar in a series of violent attacks, killing at least 1,707 people as of March 25, according to the Association to Support Political Prisoners. It also has to face civil rebel groups and increased resistance in border areas, where it has been battling ethnic armed groups for decades.
Topping the list of Russia’s state-run defense corporations is Rostec, a complex network of 15 parent companies and 70 units, many of which have supplied the Myanmar military with equipment. as parts for fighter aircraft, combat helicopters and surface ships. air missile.
One of Rostec’s largest subsidiaries, Rosoboronexport, has sent numerous shipments of weapons and equipment, including artillery, to the military since the coup and has previously praised the importance of the relationship. relations with Myanmar.
The head of Rosoboronexport said in July 2021 that it enjoys “close cooperation” with the armed forces of Myanmar, and earlier this month a military delegation went to Russia to attend an arms exhibition, where they met with a senior executive from Rosoboronexport to discuss “increasing cooperation”. according to Myanmar’s state media.
Military officials have also met with Russian representatives in Myanmar.
Members of the Eurasian Economic Union, whose five member states include Russia and Belarus, met the military in the capital Naypyidaw last week to discuss “promoting bilateral trade and services” national defense”, according to Myanmar state media.
At least three Rostec officials, including a major Rosoboronexport expert, are also currently in Myanmar, an unnamed source told Al Jazeera. Rosoboronexport has an office in Myanmar.
JFM spokesman Yadanar Maung said: “Rostec is the most important Russian company for the Myanmar military, providing a wide range of weapons and equipment, including fighter jets and armed helicopters, that the Myanmar military uses. are relying on indiscriminate air strikes across the country. Al Jazeera.
Along with Rosoboronexport, Tactical Missiles Joint Stock Company is also the main supplier of air technology to the Myanmar army, transporting the weapon preparation system for the aircraft directly to the office of the commander of the force. Air Force in 2019. Another company, Concern VKO Joint Stock Company, also known as Almaz-Antey, has also supplied the Myanmar military with parts for maintenance and repair of surface-to-air missiles.
As reported by JFM, the final shipment was received almost three weeks after the 2021 coup.
Doubt of China
According to David Mathieson, a leading independent analyst on Myanmar, the military’s interest in strengthening ties with Moscow is part of an effort to diversify the list of defense partners as well as reduce the distance with Moscow. China, according to David Mathieson, a leading independent analyst on Myanmar.
“[The military] realized they needed an ally other than China. It’s part of a longstanding view of international relations that the military has, where they don’t like to rely on just one main actor,” Mathieson told Al Jazeera.
Mathieson also noted that China’s gradual move away from Beijing could be attributed to China’s sales of “low-quality” equipment, which, although often cheaper than Russian weapons, is of lower quality and more likely to be used. function needs regular repair.
Defense relations with Russia are also less complicated than with China.
The two countries do not share a common land border, and Moscow’s arms deals are almost exclusively for the military, unlike China, which has also sold weapons to other groups inside Myanmar, including those currently operating in Myanmar. against the army.
Russia also provides Myanmar’s military with more effective air combat systems – with air strikes a key part of the generals’ strategy against adversaries – while China’s capabilities focus more on land and at sea.
“Russia is probably their closest supplier for what they need, which is armed helicopters and small attack aircraft,” said Mathieson.
Military attacks, especially air raids and the use of helicopters, have relocate more than 440,000 people, the UN said in March.
‘They need each other’
Analysts say the strength and importance of Russia’s relationship with Myanmar’s military means that even as Moscow’s attention and resources are diverted to its war efforts in Ukraine. , arms flows between the two countries can still continue to be strong.
“If anything, as Russia continues to become more isolated, the relationship,” said Jon Grevatt, head of Asia-Pacific news at Janes, a defense intelligence organization. of the country with Myanmar could become much more resilient when other partners withdraw.
“Also, thanks to COVID-19, countries like [Myanmar] are in a better place to deal with supply chain constraints or disturbances from Russia because of its focus on developing local spare parts production capacity and even providing maintenance services in the country. local “.
Myanmar’s defense budget is about $2.5 billion a year, of which only about $500 million is allocated for defense procurement – a small fraction of the actual cost of Russian weapons. For example, the Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft was used in attacks in northern Myanmar has an estimated list price of 47 million dollars each – almost a 10th of its entire budget – although actual prices vary by year and model.
According to Grevatt, given that the military cannot afford to buy all of their military equipment from Russia in dollars, it is highly likely that their purchases are supported by the transfer of raw materials, including rocks. precious and wood, according to Grevatt. This is an approach that also makes it easier for both sides to get around international sanctions.
According to Andrews’ report in February at the United Nations, the measures so far do not appear to have had much of a serious effect, but that has not stopped calls for additional arms embargoes and sanctions against both countries.
However, experts say that is unlikely to hinder the flow of weapons from Russia to Myanmar.
“[Russia or Myanmar] will not pull out. This is something that will be through thick and thin. They need each other and they know that they are stronger together. They help each other – [Myanmar] Grevatt said.
“When your friends are running out, the ones that are left automatically become more important.”