Monday, July 24, 2017

Myanmar-Russia ties reviewed

Myanmar and Russia are commemorating their 70th anniversary of relations next year with strong military, rather than economic, cooperation. But their relationship is evolving and diversifying to cover other non-military areas – such as science and technology, education and tourism.

Dr Ludmila Lutz-Auras, assistant professor at the University of Rostock, Germany, pointed out that Russia views Myanmar as part of its pivot to Asia, and as key to extending Moscow’s foothold in Southeast Asia. “Engagement in Myanmar offers a good opportunity to check its own positions on the international political stage,” she said.

She viewed Russia as a new “balancer role” in Myanmar’s relations with major powers, especially the US, China and India. Both countries could further exchange experience regarding political and economic transformation.

Although Myanmar-Russia ties are comprised mainly of military sales, she said, they were not aimed at any one country. “For Russia, it is about economics, not against anyone or to engage in conflict,” she said, adding that the US arms embargo also contributed to Russian arms sales.

Russia could also impart its expertise on military technology, energy, and science and technology, she said.

In addition, it could serve as a gateway for Myanmar products to post-Soviet areas and other new markets. Russia leads the Eurasia Union, a new free-trade grouping comprising newly independent states that were formerly part of Soviet Union. Vietnam is the only ASEAN member to join.

The Russian oil company Bashneft and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise have secured block EP4 PSA in the central Myanmar Basin, for which Bashneft has invested US$38.3 million.

In 2015, bilateral trade reached $130.5 million. This was small compared to trade with China, which reached $10 billion. This year, Myanmar-Russia trade is expected to increase to $500 million.

Besides arms sales, Myanmar imports Russian machinery, industrial equipment and vehicles, chemical products and metals, while exporting rice and textiles to Russia.

Myanmar was the fifth biggest importer of Russian weapons and fighters, spending $20.4 million on Russian weapons in 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In 2009-10, Russia exported a squadron of MiG 29B, MiG 29SE, MiG 29UB fighter jets worth $511 million, according to Ludmila’s research.

She was speaking Friday at “Myanmar-Russia: Friends in Need”, an event organised by the Yangon-based Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS).

Both Russia and Myanmar have suffered from economic sanctions imposed by western countries, Ludmila said, so they naturally sympathize with and want to help each other.

Russia, as well as China, opposed UN resolutions that sought to condemn Myanmar for the 2007 conflict. The two countries also recently vetoed a UN resolution on the situation in Rahkine State.

Russia and Myanmar established ties in 1948, and three years later, opened embassies in each other’s country. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev visited Myanmar in 1955.

In a regional context, ASEAN and Russia last year commemorated 20 years of relations with a special summit meeting in Sochi, where Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with ASEAN leaders for the first time.

Russia hopes to become a strategic partner of ASEAN soon. Other strategic partners of the group include China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand and the US.