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Russia Backs Myanmar Junta's Efforts to 'Stabilise' Country, Hold Elections


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shakes hands with Myanmar Min Aung Hlaing, Senior General and Chairman of the State Administration Council in Naypyidaw, on August 3, 2022. (Photo by HANDOUT / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP)

Russia backs the Myanmar junta's efforts to "stabilise" the crisis-wracked country and hold elections next year, its foreign minister said in talks with top generals on Wednesday, according to Russian state media.

The Southeast Asian nation has been in turmoil since the putsch last year, with the junta accused by rights groups of committing war crimes as it struggles to crush resistance to its rule.

Isolated internationally and with Western governments imposing sanctions, the military government has sought to deepen ties with major ally and arms supplier Russia -- whose invasion of Ukraine it has said was "justified".

"We are in solidarity with the efforts (by the junta) aimed at stabilising the situation in the country," Sergei Lavrov said during talks in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, according to the TASS news agency.

"Next year, you will hold legislative elections and we wish you success," Lavrov added, referring to proposed August 2023 elections that opponents of the coup have said will be neither free nor fair.

On Monday junta chief Min Aung Hlaing -- who travelled to Moscow last month -- said polls could only take place when the conflict-wracked country was "stable and peaceful".

The putsch has sparked renewed fighting with established ethnic rebel groups in border areas, while dozens of civilian "People's Defence Force" militias have also sprung up to battle the military.

Lavrov and his counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin also discussed the "further advancement of bilateral relations and cooperation" between the countries' armed forces, the junta's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.

A handout picture taken and released by the Russian Foreign Ministry press service on August 3, 2022, shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) during his meeting with Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin in Myanmar. (Photo by HANDOUT / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP)
A handout picture taken and released by the Russian Foreign Ministry press service on August 3, 2022, shows Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) during his meeting with Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin in Myanmar. (Photo by HANDOUT / RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY / AFP)

Russia -- along with ally China -- has been accused by rights groups and a UN expert of arming Myanmar's military with weapons used to attack civilians.

Lavrov and junta chief Min Aung Hlaing also discussed opening new consulates "to promote an increase in travel" between their two countries, TASS said.

Lavrov later travelled on to Cambodia, Russia's foreign affairs ministry said, where he will attend an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers' meeting.

The junta's top diplomat has been excluded from the meet over its failure to engage in dialogue with its opponents.

ASEAN joined a chorus of international outrage after the junta announced last month it had executed four prisoners, including a former lawmaker and a democracy activist, in the country's first use of capital punishment in decades.

'Disappointed and disturbed'

ASEAN has been growing increasingly frustrated at Myanmar's lack of progress on a five-point peace plan agreed last year.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen -- the current ASEAN chair -- on Wednesday warned Myanmar against further hangings.

He said the regional bloc was "disappointed and disturbed" by last month's executions, and that the further use of capital punishment would mean a "rethink" of the five-point peace plan.

Isolated on the international stage, the junta has turned increasingly to allies including China and Russia.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing was in Moscow on a "private" visit in July and reportedly met with officials from Moscow's space agency Roscosmos and nuclear agencies.

In Naypyidaw, Lavrov said Roscosmos would build "new infrastructure" in Myanmar in cooperation with the junta.

The army has justified its power grab by alleging massive fraud during the 2020 elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) trounced a military-backed party.

Last year, it cancelled the results of the polls, saying it had uncovered more than 11 million instances of voter fraud.

International observers said the voting was largely free and fair.

More than 2,100 people have been killed in a military crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitor.

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