Shunned by the West, Russia and Myanmar Form a Partnership of Unequals

Oct 26, 2022 · 29 comments
J. von Hettlingen (Switzerland)
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, head of Myanmar’s junta, attended Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum in early September. The visit marked his third trip to Russia since the military usurped power in February 2021, and his first meeting with Putin. The symbolism of their meeting was much more important for the junta, providing it with a degree of legitimation at a time when many see the National Unity Government in exile as Myanmar’s legitimate ruler. The junta’s aims for pandering to Russia were mostly economic, as the regime seeks to manage a severe post-coup economic downturn. The two countries agreed deals on energy imports using Russia’s ruble as a settlement currency, aiming to reduce dependence on the US dollar. Other arrangements focused on arms sales and a future nuclear power plant etc. Russia has found a new customer, but trade with Myanmar is nothing compared to its European buyers, which have tightened sanctions. Moscow wants to ship more fuel to Asia and the Middle East, which buys cheap Russian oil for domestic use, while selling its own for higher prices aborad. Russia also seeks to pivot to the Asia-Pacific, which he sees as an important market for fuel and weapons exports. But sanctions have crippled Russia's ability to make advanced weapons. Since the coup and the invasion of Ukraine, both Myanmar and Russia – globally isolated – are seeking new economic relationships to counter Western sanctions. But the benefits hardly make an impact on GPD growth.
The Constitution Matters (missouri)
The degree to which totalitarian/authoritarian regimes lean on each other is astounding. It really is something more than a mutual admiration society/back-scratching club... and something more globe-spanningly sinister. Maybe Bush W. -- for all his craziness/near-imbecility -- was onto something when he floated the concept of an "Axis of Evil". Putin's Kremlin has turned to Iran, North Korea, Assad's Syria... and now the military dictatorship of Myanmar, to help fund and support his genocide of Ukrainians. And waiting in the wings, of course, the elephant in the room is Xi's CCP; which has also given a "no limits!" thumbs-up to Putin's belligerent revisionisms.... (And would be joining in on the fun, no doubt, were it not for the crashing Chinese economy's fear of running afoul of sanctions.) But maybe the democracies of the world need to create their own permanent international strike force, outside the UN (which the CCP has coopted); so these murderous, authoritarian clowns stop calling the shots/attempting to overthrow sovereign democracies via their divide-and-conquer networks of mutual aid? Dictatorships aren't the only ones who can band together, right? Maybe it's time the democratic West should stop playing nice.
Will Hogan (Washington)
I thought Russia was short on weapons right now. Maybe it is shorter on allies than weapons...
mb (-)
Tell me who your friends are and I'll tell you who you are
Rabindra Nath Roy (India)
Present regime in Mynmar will naturally lean to any country that supports and is left with no allies in the world. It is very nature of a regime that has bid goodbye to democracy and Putin who symbolizes the authoritarian regime needs are clear is very clear in the writeup. But a country like India that has its regime democratically elected and Prime Minister of India during his oath taking ceremony had the then Mynmar leaderAung San Suu Kyi in new Delhi who is uttered not a single word of condemnation for her arbitrary arrest and sentences. And India has its good relations with Putin in the name of non alignment. West's effort in bringing Putin to his senses is most inadequate and everyday there is devastation in Ukrain and now we also hear of a petition sent to President Biden to negotiate settlement with Putin without having any sense of safety of the world including America.
eric masterson (hancock)
Really, it's past time to shutter the UN and reconstitute it with no country having veto power and every country subject to expulsion.
watchfulbaker (Hollywood)
All of Russia’s weapons. All of Myanmar’s weapons. Are all used solely for aggression against innocents and horrendously against their own people. All of these weapons are bought and sold with oil money. Fossil fuels are the ruination of the environment, and causing the enslavement of large swathes of humanity. Much of the human misery on Earth, now and for future generations, lay primarily on the back of American Oil Giants and climate denialists.
Robert B. (USA/Canada)
I wish I could recommend this comment a thousand times!!!
MM (Walnut Creek, CA)
I don’t disagree entirely, but the “Oil Giants” are nothing without millions of paying customers, myself included. We have met the enemy, and he is us.
AutumLeaf (Manhattan)
It really is no surprise. What was accomplished by pushing Russia into this war, is that the world has split in two. One the one side, are the countries that prefer to remain under the boot of Washington and Wall Street. Any one not happy with that can now choose to align themselves with China and Russia. No surprise then that the Saudis, India, Brazil gravitated towards Russia/China almost as soon as the war got started. Mexico has their own deal with Russia now, and now Myamar too. Expect a trickle, then a river of countries eyeing this new group as a better choice than being a puppet to DC and a cash cow to Wall Street. Biden’s legacy is that the world got cut in half. And our side keep shrinking
Mike (Alaska)
@AutumLeaf "Pushing Russia into this war"? Russia is clearly the aggressor. Nice try.
Concerned (Australia)
@AutumLeaf Pushing Russia into war? Nonsense. Fiction. Putin's acquisitive ambitions have been well known for a long time. All Putin's ridiculous claims to support his so-called special military operation do not mask his true intentions. He wants to acquire that which does not belong to him because of his own personal ambitions to restore something that no longer exists.
Chris Coughlin (Pacifica,CA)
@AutumLeaf Biden's legacy? Did you simply fail to notice that China has been arming the junta in Rangoon for more than 30 years? Spanning the tenure of SIX American administrations? A relationship that has its roots in the early 90's - when SLORC made its initial appeals for Chinese aid in crushing the dogged 45 year old resistance of General Bo Mya and his Karen National Union - headquartered at Manerplaw? Your personal lack of a grasp of the historical context here is an appallingly bad excuse for partisan axe grinding - considering the stakes at this late date. Did you simply fail to notice that
DennisMcG (Boston)
Not mentioned here is that the junta bombed an outdoor concert in a rebel held area just a few days ago, killing dozens of civilians including performers.
Caddisman (The Great Northwet)
Seems like a coalition of dictators to me.
sam (ngai)
The longer he drags the war, the weaker his country gets and more Russians blood on his hand, what support can he get from Myanmar ?
Casual Observer (Los Angeles)
The Myanmar army shows why civilian control of militaries is fundamental to rational good government. Putin shows why limits to official power by rule of law is essential to good government. So this is a partnership of countries with poor governance that are going nowhere because of it. In both cases the leadership maintains power by fear and suppresses freedom among those governed resulting in poorly functioning countries.
arrekale (Paris)
If we could supply the democratic resistance in Myanmar with a tiny fraction of the weapons we provide to Ukraine, they would defeat the regime. This would increase pressure on Russia as well
Baruch (Taos NM)
Putin is a fool. Now we know, if a dirty bomb explodes as part of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that the Russians will be responsible. Putin may not realize but we understand the concept of projection, and we understand that he is a liar. Thanks for the warning Vlad!
Stan Smart (Cincinnati, OH)
But we'll talk, talk, talk and do little...
FxQ (Cincinnati)
What evidence do you have and why would the Russians call in the UN to keep an eye on this?
B (CA)
The Russians did not call in the UN, the Ukrainians did
Art (An island in the Pacific)
The woeful performance of both Russian's military personnel and its weapons systems really doesn't augur well for Putin in terms of military alliances and weapons exports. Russia is purchasing material from North Korea and Iran, for goodness sake. So yes, it's understandable that Myanmar is one of Russia's best and biggest customers. I wonder, MBS and his Saudi clique may be feeling their oats at the moment, but are they really comfortable with the risk of foregoing US made weapons systems and support in favor of third-rate armaments from other countries?
Val (Minneapolis)
@Art Ukraine has used Soviet, Russian systems very well. Saudi Arabia actually pays for it weapons unlike Ukraine. They can easily switch to French, S Korean, British, Russian weapons.
larsvanness (Sarasota, Fl)
@Art Hmmm...150,000 Russians along with 40,000 Donbas militia crossed into Ukraine to confront and contain a Ukrainian army of 250,000 troops, 80,000 of which were trained and equipped to NATO standards by US Army advisors and backed by a reserve force of 315,000 active reservists. If that’s a “woeful performance” then the Pentagon should take notice and try to emulate that “woeful performance” in the next third world country Washington decides to invade and maybe the US Army won’t be run into the ground by mountain dwelling goat herders armed with just AK-47s!
The Constitution Matters (missouri)
@Val The Russian industrial base/logistical capacity to maintain a long war is imploding. A country that billed itself as the world's number 2 superpower running to Myanmar for help, while utterly pathetic, is understandable... given the shambolic nature of ex-Soviet stockpiles undermined by decades of the Putin Regime's kleptocratic corruption. As regards the Saudis, though; they can't keep undermining NATO with their support of Putin, and ALSO think they can indefinitely obtain kit from NATO allies like the French, British, S.Korea etc. Both things can't be true. If MBS continues down the path he is on -- of refusing to pump more oil because it's driving inflation and that helps Putin and all the anti-democratic authoritarian opposition parties within the Western world which the Saudis want to empower (Trump/MAGA, Le Pen in France, Far right movements throughout the EU); then, rest assured, there WILL be consequences. The West is not going to sit idly by why the Saudis attempt to exert a Veto power control over all democratic countries/movements throughout the world.... If the Saudis want to politicize OPEC to favor only authoritarians -- to pump for their rise and make cuts whenever democrats are elected-- everything will be on the table, up for revision, going forward... including the continual arms transfers from all NATO and allied countries. One good turn deserves another, right? For far too long the Saudis have forgotten that there is no tit without a tat...
Gerry O'Brien (Ottawa, Canada)
This strange partnership resembles a marriage of convenience were both are expecting a desired outcome ... but both will be sorely disappointed and will end up quarreling over minor stuff.
Max (Downeast Maine)
Of course. Why do you think Putin's doing all this? Conservatives too. Fossil Fuels. Imagine their worlds without it, OPEC also. They're forming oligarchs worldwide and teaming up against the Free World, and clean energy technologies. That's as simple as it can be stated.
Fred (Queens)
Your headline, "Shunned by the West", makes it seem like Russia was provoked to look to Myanmar (& China & Iran, etc.). But Russia has a long history of division between Westernizers & orientalists. Since at least 2007 (the Munich speech), Putin sees his future in the East. And he's right - to the extent that he has a future.
See also