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In this photo released from The Military True News Information Team on Nov. 6, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing salutes guard of honour from the Russian Navy during an opening ceremony of first Myanmar Russia Maritime Security Exercise at Thilawa port in Yangon, Myanmar.The Associated Press

The military-run Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar is holding its first joint naval exercise with Russia, state media reported Tuesday, with the countries carrying out manoeuvres in the Andaman Sea.

Reports in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said that the maritime security exercise with Russia was being held until Thursday, 157 kilometres (85 miles) west of Myeik in Myanmar’s far south. Some Russian navy vessels sailed from Yangon to take part, state television MRTV reported.

The three-day joint drill involves aircraft and naval vessels and focuses on defending against threats from air, sea and land as well as other maritime security measures, the reports said.

Russia is a major supporter and arms supplier of Myanmar’s military government, which was installed after the army seized power and ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February 2021. Russia defends Myanmar’s military government in international forums, and the ruling generals return the favour by generally supporting Moscow’s foreign policy agenda.

Myanmar has been treated as a pariah state by many Western nations since the military takeover and the violent suppression of protests against it, which has led to the deaths of thousands of civilians and given rise to an armed resistance movement in many parts of the country.

The Global New Light of Myanmar said the head of the military government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, met on Monday with Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s navy, at Thilawa port in the southern part of Yangon. The Russian officer welcomed an inspection by the Myanmar leader, who reviewed a guard of honour and toured one of the Russian vessels.

Min Aung Hlaing was briefed on the capacity of Russian weapons, the installation of modern systems and an anti-submarine helicopter, the reports said.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. independent investigator on human rights in Myanmar, in a report in May to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council identified $406 million in weapons and materiel that went to the Myanmar military from Russia, $267 million from China, $254 million from Singapore, $51 million from India and $28 million from Thailand.

Since the 2021 takeover, the report said, 28 Russian private and state-owned companies have transferred fighter jets and their spare parts, advanced missile systems, reconnaissance and attack drones, attack helicopters and other systems to Myanmar’s military.

As an example of what he called the military’s brutality, Andrews pointed to its April 11 air strike using a Russian Yak-130 fighter jet on a ceremony in northern Myanmar attended by some 300 opponents of army rule. It was quickly followed by an attack by Russian Mi-35 helicopters on those who came to help. He said at least 160 people were killed, including many children.

The joint exercises come at a time when Myanmar’s military is facing the co-ordinated offensives of the pro-democracy resistance fighters and ethnic minority armed organizations that have seized strategic towns in the northern region of Sagaing and Shan state in the east.

Russian-made fighter jets are used in attacks on both the resistance fighters and ethnic armed groups.

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