Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the sharp divide in Myanmar a year after a military coup sparked mass resistance and armed conflict, with the junta praising Moscow for trying to “ensure world peace” and the ousted civilian leadership decrying “alarming and frightening” bullying.
Moscow – which has continued to support and arm the junta led by Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing that crushed Myanmar’s decade-long democratic reform in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup – got immediate backing from the regime after Russian forces invaded and attacked Ukraine on Thursday.
“Firstly, I see it as an effort to consolidate Russian sovereignty,” junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Secondly, it shows that Russia is a force to be reckoned with in the balance of power to ensure world peace.”
Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) said that while last year’s military takeover was not a foreign invasion, similarities can be drawn between Russia’s actions and how the military imposed its will on the Southeast Asian nation of 54 million people.
“The concept of bullying is similar,” NUG Foreign Minister Zin Mar Aung told RFA.
“From an international point of view, they crossed the border and invaded a small country. It is more alarming and frightening for geographically related nations and for allies. We are watching to see how countries react to the shift in the balance of power.”
Russia, a U.N. Security Council member, has continued to provide the junta with drones, fighter jets, and armored vehicles that have been used to attack its civilians a year after the coup, despite widespread atrocities and credible reports of crimes against humanity. Min Aung Hlaing visited Russia in June, 2021.
“It should be incontrovertible that weapons used to kill civilians should no longer be transferred to Myanmar. These transfers truly shock the conscience,” former U.S. Rep. Tom Andrews, who serves as U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, said in a report to the U.N. Security Council.
The junta has cracked down on its opponents through attacks on peaceful protesters, arrests, and beatings and killings. The military regime has also attacked opposition strongholds with helicopter gunships, fighter jets, and troops that have burned hundreds of villages they accuse of supporting anti-junta militias.
As of Saturday, more than 1,580 people had been killed since the coup and some 12,300 arrested, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights organization based in Thailand.
Imbalance of power
The war in Ukraine is also being monitored by the opposition-led paramilitary People’s Defense Force (PDF), which was formed in the aftermath of the coup to protect the country’s civilian population and is fighting the military across a wide swathe of Myanmar.
Yebaw Wei Gyi, a PDF leader, said his group is particularly interested in how the rest of the world will react to the invasion and what the implications are for the junta, which has been targeted with sanctions and ostracized by the international community for its actions in Myanmar.
“In the current scenario, NATO countries like the EU and the United States are in a difficult position to decide whether they should go in and Russia knows,” he said.
“Ukraine is not in a position to fight Russia alone. But will the U.S., EU and NATO, who are behind Ukraine, get involved? If they do … it could lead to a world war. But if they don’t, Russia will crush Ukraine and do what it wants.”
Halting democratic progress
Other observers in Myanmar said that Russia’s actions had destabilized the world order and called for concerted pressure on Moscow to end the conflict.
“Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine has led to turmoil for international relations,” said political analyst Than Soe Naing.
“If the world fails to put a stop to this, we will fall back into an era of empire building. Global democratization efforts will also suffer, and the clock will be turned back several centuries.”
Than Soe Naing said that sanctions alone are not enough to rein in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sense of adventurism and called for a paradigm shift in global military cooperation.
Nan Linn, a spokesman for the Yangon University Alumni Association, said that the people of Myanmar will stand with the Ukrainian people because they see parallels between the coup and how Russia used military aggression to violate their sovereign rights.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a matter of grave concern for global security because it is part of a very worrying trend in which powerful nations and dictators are exerting influence in the world,” he said.
“We stand with the people of Ukraine in the Russian invasion because we cannot accept such a bullying act without respect for national sovereignty.”
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