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Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, arrived on a landmark visit to Myanmar on Wednesday where he held talks with the country’s top military generals and expressed his support to the junta.
“We are in solidarity with the efforts (by the junta) aimed at stabilising the situation in the country,” Mr Lavrov said in capital Naypyidaw on the first day of his visit, reported the TASS news agency.
The visit is one of the most high-profile by a foreign dignitary since the coup took place in February last year.
Mr Lavrov also gave his endorsement for a junta proposal to hold legislative elections next year.
“Next year, you will hold legislative elections and we wish you success in making your country even stronger and more prosperous,” said the top Russian diplomat.
The proposal for elections in August 2023 has been criticised by senior political leaders, many of whom were ousted in the coup. They said the polls staged by the military would be neither free nor fair.
The country is under the rule of the military government which ousted Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party three months after it won an election, with generals claiming without evidence that the vote was rigged against the military’s own party. Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested and charged with several counts of corruption.
More than 2,100 people have been killed by the junta since the coup, according to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a figure denied by the regime.
One of the most powerful allies of the isolated junta, Russia has backed the country and upheld its bilateral ties with Naypyidaw, leading to accusations by rights groups that the Kremlin has armed Myanmar’s military with weapons then used in the killings of civilians.
Russia had aided the junta with drones, two types of fighter jets and two kinds of armoured vehicles – including one with air defence systems, Thomas Andrews, the UN’s human rights expert on Myanmar, said in February this year, a claim Moscow has rejected.
The Russian defence ministry, earlier this month, said the two nations would deepen defence cooperation after junta chief Min Aung Hlaing made an official visit to Moscow.
Mr Lavrov is also expected to attend a meeting comprising of the foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Cambodia.
The junta’s top envoy has been excluded from the meet over its refusal to engage in dialogue with domestic political opponents, however.
The Russian minister is expected to hold a number of bilateral meetings in Cambodia, foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said.
Mr Lavrov’s visit comes just days after the junta extended a state of emergency by six months and said elections would only take place when the country was “stable and peaceful”, reported the AFP news agency.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, the face of last year’s coup, requested the military government on Monday to “allow him to serve for an additional six months”, reported the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.