Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has arrived in Myanmar on an official visit that Moscow said will include discussions with the military government on security and economic issues, the Russian news agency TASS reported.
Russia is a key supporter and arms supplier to Myanmar’s military government, which came to power in February last year when it overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Lavrov met his counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, and other top Myanmar 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 military government, which he described as a “friendly and longstanding partner”, saying the two countries “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.
Western nations have ostracised Myanmar’s ruling generals and have imposed economic and political sanctions against them because of their takeover and violent repression of opposition.
Myanmar has been in a state of increasing turmoil since the army takeover last year, and its military regularly carries out attacks on armed pro-democracy fighters and their supporters and ethnic minority armed groups that have long battled for greater political autonomy.
United Nations experts have described the country as being in a civil war.
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, where statements suggest that the recent execution of four political prisoners by military authorities in Myanmar has been seen as a rejection of an ASEAN peace plan designed “to try and bring Myanmar back into the fold”.
Myanmar’s absence from ASEAN
Lavrov’s visit to Myanmar, his first to the country, comes ahead of his attendance at the ASEAN summit in Cambodia.
Myanmar was asked not to send any political representative to ASEAN meetings in response to the violence that ensued after the February 2021 coup.
Protesting against the decision, Myanmar’s military government said it would not send any delegate at all. So it is unrepresented at the talks in Phnom Penh and complicating efforts to push the country to comply with ASEAN’s five-point plan for peace, which it has largely been ignoring.
“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.