This year, the Myanmar military junta and the Russian Federation have held planning meetings to co-host joint military exercises to counter terrorism in ASEAN with the reported attendance of Thai military representatives, despite a boycott by the United States and other Asian countries since 2022.
On 22 June 2023, Myanmar Now reported that Myanmar’s Ministry of Defence and the Russian Federation held a meeting to plan military exercises to counter-terrorism together with neighbouring Asian countries. It was revealed that a Thai military representative was present at the meeting, while the United States and several Asian countries sanctioned the manoeuvres.
Between 5-8 June 2023, Myanmar and Russia hosted the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus in the city of Khabarovsk, the headquarters of Russia’s Eastern Military District. It was the final working meeting aimed at reaching conclusions on counter-terrorism within ASEAN before conducting joint military exercises later this year.
The ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus in Khabarovsk
The participants included representatives from Thailand and other ASEAN members, as well as China and India. The United States, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand have boycotted the meeting since 2022.
It was verified that the Thai military official attending the meeting is Col. Pittaya Komolman, Military Attaché at the Royal Thai Embassy in Moscow.
According to Myanmar Now, the counter-terrorism exercises aim to enhance cooperation among military personnel in responding to military attacks. This includes simulating situations when terrorists initiate attacks and training the military to handle emergencies.
The Myanmar military junta has attempted to use this platform to find allies and gain legitimacy at the regional level in order to counter its opposition. From their perspective, “terrorist groups” refer to the opposition, such as the National Unity Government and its armed wing, the People’s Defence Force, and the armed forces of the ethnic minorities. Russia is one of the chief suppliers of arms and equipment to the Myanmar military.
On 22 June 2023, the human rights group Justice For Myanmar released a statement calling for the cancellation of the joint exercises hosted by the Myanmar military junta and Russian Federation, which are scheduled to take place in the coming months. They argued that it would further empower the Myanmar military junta to commit more crimes against its citizens.
Two exercises will be held. The first, a tabletop exercise, will be hosted by the Myanmar military government in August, and the second, a field training exercise, will be held in September in Khabarovsk.
Myanmar-Russia Meeting on counter-terrorism Exercise on 28 Feb-1 March 2023 (Photo from Website)
The UN Special Rapporteur Thomas Andrews has raised concerns over Myanmar's participation in ASEAN defence meetings, saying that Myanmar’s participation will not only undermine the credibility of ASEAN but also serve to legitimize the junta and perpetuate the suffering of the Myanmar people.