‘The worry is Russia’: UN delays Myanmar representation decision

Bangkok, Thailand and Yangon, Myanmar – The United Nations has delayed a decision on who should represent Myanmar amid concerns that Russia, which has grown increasingly close to Myanmar’s coup leaders, could sabotage efforts to reach an international consensus on the devastated country. for the crisis.

The UN Credentials Committee, made up of nine UN member states including China, Russia and the United States, began meeting on November 29. Consideration is underway as to who should represent Myanmar: UN ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, appointed by the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi, or nominated by the generals who staged the coup that toppled his government in February 2021 .

The committee will present its recommendations to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which usually approves the advice given.

The question about Myanmar’s representation at the UN reflects the added difficulties facing the anti-coup movement at a time when geopolitical tensions have escalated after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Described as “two authoritarian powers…operating together” by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the divide between Russia and China on the one hand and other parts of the international community has widened, analysts say, and man Strong Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping have shown less appetite for compromise.

Despite that, the US, China and Russia would probably prefer not to have a public spat over Myanmar’s representation, said veteran diplomat and former Dutch ambassador to Myanmar Laetitia van den Assum.

“These powerhouses already have enough major problems on their plates. At the same time, however, China and Russia would certainly like to see Kyaw Moe Tun go.”

Kyaw Moe Tun, who made the famous three-finger salute of the anti-coup movement within the UNGA, remains the country’s representative. [United Nations via YouTube and AFP]

Kyaw Moe Tun, who remained in office after the coup, voted this year to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and suspend Russia’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council. He is backed by the Myanmar National Unity Government (NUG), established by the country’s elected and now ousted lawmakers.

Both Beijing and Moscow have publicly backed Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s pariah regime, even as Southeast Asian countries hardened their previously lukewarm rejection of the military. More than 2,500 people have been killed in the military crackdown since he took power in February 2021, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, a civil society group that monitors the situation.

The UN Credentials Committee had originally agreed to keep Kyaw Moe Tun for another year, according to a Western diplomat involved in the process. “The concern all the time is Russia,” the diplomat said.

Now that the decision has been delayed, critics worry that it opens the door for Russia to fight on behalf of the internationally isolated Myanmar military. If no consensus is reached in the committee, a UNGA vote will take place.

“Moscow could be problematic, if they choose to. While they agreed to let the NUG control representation at the UN in 2021, Russia is diplomatically in a very different place today following its invasion of Ukraine and its military setbacks,” Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in the US UU. that focuses on the politics of Southeast Asia.

“I don’t want to exaggerate the importance of Naypyidaw for Moscow. He is a second-tier client-state, but today Russia has few friends, and Min Aung Hlaing has been fawning over President Putin, in his desperate bid for international legitimacy.”

Snuggling up to Putin

Moscow has been actively supporting the military, inviting Min Aung Hlaing to Russia, shielding the regime from UN Security Council sanctions, and providing weapons and oil.

“Beyond the re-election of Kyaw Moe Tun at the UN, it is proving difficult to work with Russia. [in terms of reaching a consensus in the international community to pressure the regime] and is publicly endorsing the junta. China seems to be consolidating its support for the regime as well,” said Scot Marciel, a former US ambassador to Myanmar.

“It is different from 2021. They provide tangible support for the junta, while those who support the resistance and the anti-coup movement are more rhetorical in their support.”

Min Aung Hlaing And Vladimir Putin Shake Hands At A Summit In Vladivostok, Russia. They Look Pleased To See Each Other And Are Smiling. The Flags Of Myanmar And Russia Are In The Background.
Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing secured a long-awaited meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the 2022 Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, in September. [Valery Sharifulin/TASS via AFP]

Min Aung Hlaing met Putin for the first time since the coup in September on the sidelines of the Moscow-hosted Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok, a city in Russia’s far east.

A delegation from the Myanmar army’s Ministry of Science and Technology last month studied a nuclear power plant in Russia and signed some agreements, according to the Myanmar media Than Lwin Times. These deals included a plan to build a nuclear “technology center” with a small reactor in Yangon, said military defector Captain Kaung Thu Win.

“The [Myanmar] military said they will not use [the project] to make weapons. However, out of sight, it can produce weapons after the nuclear plant is built,” the defector noted, according to the Than Lwin Times, warning that this would pose a significant threat to people in Myanmar.

Russia’s high-profile interactions with the generals have not gone unnoticed in China.

“Myanmar’s military government is currently barred from most regional summits and sanctioned by several Western countries. Myanmar, becoming increasingly isolated, has increasingly sought diplomatic support and weaponry from Russia,” Chinese scholar Lin Xixing noted in an analysis published earlier this year. Lin was affiliated with Jinan University in the southern city of Guangzhou and used to work in the Chinese government.

The Chinese scholar said that “Myanmar’s diplomatic stance has fully shifted towards Russia and become more confident in the political game,” referring to the military plan to hold an election exercise in 2023.

The pariah regime “seems to enjoy some pragmatic acceptance from China and, to a lesser extent, India, and strong outright support from Russia,” noted a Dec. 1 briefing paper by Joanne Lin and Moe Thuzar of ISEAS- Yusof Ishak, based in Singapore. Institute.

Min Aung Hlaing has been quick to return the favor to both clients.

His regime expressed its support for the invasion of Russia, while the party representing the military, the United Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), accused the then Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, of destabilizing the region with his visit to Taiwan in August.

A group of international lawmakers concluded last month, after a four-month investigation, that “firm and uncritical” support from Russia, China and India was allowing the army to sustain itself despite continued pushback from the anti-coup movement. , including armed combatants. .

The NUG continues to support Kyaw Moe Tun.

“NUG fully stands behind Kyaw Moe Tun, who has risen to the occasion and in this dark time has proven not only to be an ardent and tireless supporter of human rights and democracy, but also a highly skilled and capable diplomat. ”, Dr. Sasa, the NUG Minister of International Cooperation told Al Jazeera.

“The military hopes to control the international narrative, suppress the truth and stall any fledgling international response by ‘legitimizing’ themselves through the credentials committee,” said the minister, speaking from an undisclosed location.

Anti-Coup Fighters And Protesters At A Demonstration In The Sagaing Region Of Myanmar. They Are Yelling As They Walk. Some Have Weapons And One Carries A Megaphone.
The Myanmar military continues to face opposition to its rule, including from civilian armed groups linked to the NUG. [File: AFP]

Dr. Sasa warns that accepting the military candidate would likely open the door to providing aid and doing business with generals “and of course, a public relations barrage of photos of generals on the world stage.”

Despite the support for the NUG, the way forward for its formal recognition remains uncertain, the ISEAS newspaper said.

Beijing’s and Moscow’s veto power in the UN Security Council and differing preferences within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations may continue to provide the regime “with the expectation that it could still seek recognition and legitimacy through their plans for an election in 2023”, he observed. .

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