On June 23, Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing met with Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, to discuss closer bilateral ties. The meeting took place at the Ninth Moscow Conference on International Security, sponsored by the ministry.
Aung Hlaing was greeted warmly, with the Russian Defense Ministry’s Military University awarding him an honorary professorship. Shoigu called the Myanmar strongman, who has overseen a deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protests since the February coup, a “dear friend.”
Aung Hlaing said the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, “has become one of the strongest in the region thanks to the Russian Federation.” Shoigu promised further cooperation, “primarily in the military and military-technical spheres.”
Russian state broadcaster Sputnik gave Aung Hlaing an opportunity to discuss the situation in Myanmar following the coup, as a result of which a November 2020 election was overturned, the military leader was placed in power and civilian leaders were imprisoned.
“At first there were protests. You already know the reason — because of the election fraud. After that, the protests escalated to the stage of terrorism, and this is where other reasons play a role,” Aung Hlaing said.
He then blamed the protesters for spreading fear in the country and damaging the country’s reputation.
“First of all, the protesters cause fear in the local population, thus preventing people from leading normal lives in the country.” Aung Hlaing said. “They cause fear. Secondly, they are destroying the image of the current government in the international arena. They are doing this on purpose for their own interests.”
Aung Hlaing went on to claim that the primary goal of the “oppositionists” is to use terrorism to create instability in the country, prompting a foreign intervention.
“[T]hose who directly carry out terrorists attacks work for money. It’s not some political movement. They just receive money. But they are directed by people who have a political interest; they are looking for money and sponsors who will later pay. They would never carry out an act of terrorism [by] themselves; they are afraid of it,” he said.
Aung Hlaing’s characterization of the protest motives is false, and his claims of election fraud are unsubstantiated and disputed.
Demonstrations erupted specifically in reaction to the coup. The military’s violent response ultimately spurred armed resistance, pushing the country toward a civil war. Myanmar citizens widely embraced mass protests, work stoppages and other peaceful civil disobedience.
The U.K.- based rights group Amnesty International said Myanmar’s “security forces responded with bloodshed, abductions, imprisonment and torture.” That included employing weapons of war against civilians, as well as waging war, including airstrikes, in ethnic minority areas.
Myanmar authorities used internet, media and social media blackouts to cover up state-backed violence, which at its height killed 114 civilians on March 27. The following day, security forces opened fire on a funeral mourning three people who’d been killed in the violence.
The Myanmar nonprofit Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP) estimates that 883 people were killed from February 1 to June 29. AAPP says those are only confirmed casualties, adding “the actual number of fatalities is likely much higher.”
An estimated 5,224 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced to prison, including members of the deposed government. They include civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been charged with bribery and corruption.
In late March, top United Nations officials condemned Myanmar state security forces for “systematic" attacks on peaceful protesters and other “atrocity crimes.”
“The shameful, cowardly, brutal actions of the military and police – who have been filmed shooting at protesters as they flee, and who have not even spared young children – must be halted immediately,” U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a joint statement.
According to a report by the Brussels nonprofit International Crisis Group published on June 28, the Myanmar junta’s crackdown on protesters and civilians “has triggered violent resistance, including the formation of militias in parts of the country.”
The report states that those lightly armed militias have nonetheless inflicted “serious casualties on Myanmar’s military.”
That has prompted security forces to retaliate via “indiscriminate attacks on populated areas, using artillery, airstrikes and helicopter gunships.”
Bachelet accused the military of escalating a growing crisis. "Credible reports indicate that security forces have used civilians as human shields, shelled civilian homes and churches … and they have blocked humanitarian access, including by attacking humanitarian actors," said Bachelet’s spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani.
On June 14, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on the Myanmar military “to respect the will of the people as freely expressed by the results of the general election of 8 November 2020” and “to end the state of emergency.” The resolution was passed 119 to 1, with 36 countries abstaining,
The U.N. resolution condemned “the use of lethal force and violence” against demonstrators in Myanmar, as well as broad restrictions against civil society.
The U.N. also expressed “deep concern about the arbitrary detention and arrest of President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and other government officials and politicians, human rights defenders, journalists, civil society members, foreign experts and others,” calling for their immediate release.
On May 30, Myanmar’s military announced a ceasefire for the month of June, which was accepted by some but not all ethnic rebel groups in the country.
Some armed ethnic groups have reached out to the UN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and others for assistance in mediating dialogue with the military.
Despite the international condemnation, China maintains its support for Myanmar's junta.