Activists call on Ukraine to end arms supply to Myanmar military and its private brokers

A rights group called for a halt to Ukraine’s arms deals with the Myanmar junta on Wednesday, urging Western governments to use their influence to cut off the eastern European country’s supply of weapons to the coup regime.  

Justice for Myanmar (JFM), a group of activists that monitors the military’s businesses and its networks, said in a statement that it found evidence that Ukraine had made multiple shipments of parts for aircrafts, ships, and tanks as well as air surveillance radars to the junta or its affiliated private arms dealers from 2015 until late May of this year. 

The statement identified a shipment of turbojet engine parts sent by Ukrainian firm Motor Sich to the Myanmar army on May 31 as the most recent deal; it also coincided with the perpetration of military airstrikes on many ethnic areas.  

JFM highlighted a joint production project between Myanmar’s defence industry and two Ukrainian state-owned companies—Ukroboronprom and Ukrspecexport—as being particularly alarming. The plant in question, which produced BTR-4 armoured personnel carriers, MMT-40 light tanks and 2SIU self-propelled howitzers, was identified by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar in 2019 as a recommended target for arms transfer sanctions. 

In an article published on the same day as its statement, the JFM accused Myanmar businessman Aung Hlaing Oo—who runs Myanmar Chemical & Machinery (MCM)—of being the country’s top arms dealer in connection with Ukraine. The article described Aung Hlaing Oo’s Amethyst Trading company, an MCM subsidiary, as “a main consignee of the parts sent by Ukrspecexport for the joint project.” 

Citing Ukrainian export records, the JFM said that a large number of Ukrspecexport shipments were made to Amethyst Trading involving tank parts in 2018 and armoured recovery vehicle parts in 2019.

“According to a private sector source with military connections, Aung Hlaing Oo receives commissions of 20-30% on arms sales from Ukraine, which amount to substantial profits for his businesses and the Ukrainian state,” the JFM’s article said. 

Aung Hlaing Oo (right), who runs MCM, a private arms brokerage firm for the Myanmar military, is seen with the Ukrainian ambassador to Myanmar (left) in 2017 (Obtained by Myanmar Now)

Aung Hlaing Oo’s business interests include but are not limited to power generation projects, construction and trade, according to those who know him.

“He is a big arms broker who has been constantly doing business with the military. He had even helped [the military] import stuff from North Korea in the past,” a Myanmar businessman told Myanmar Now on condition of anonymity. 

“Only now have his interests expanded into power projects, but in a way, it is like money laundering,” he added, suggesting that his new economic ventures represent a medium through which Aung Hlaing Oo has been able to channel the profits he garnered from weapons deals. 

Another source who is familiar with business networks in Myanmar confirmed his claim.

Aung Hlaing Oo was appointed Ukraine’s honorary consul to Myanmar in January 2017; JFM demanded that he be removed from this position. 

Other companies that engage in arms deals with Ukrainian entities for the Myanmar military include Myanmar Consultancy, Sky Aviator, Trident Marine and Interstellar, JFM said.

“Individuals and companies procuring arms for the Myanmar military must be sanctioned immediately and denied access to the international financial system and global markets, including in Singapore, where some arms dealers operate,” said Yadanar Maung, JFM’s spokesperson. 

Justice for Myanmar said Ukraine’s business with the Myanmar military has enriched private Myanmar companies who facilitate the arms trade (JFM)

Citing a DW article published in late August, JFM said that a Ukroboronprom spokesperson’s claim of doing business with Myanmar’s military regime “in accordance with Ukrainian law and international obligations” contradicts with the Ukrainian government’s stance at the UN General Assembly in June. At that time, the country voted in favour of a resolution to stop the supply of arms to Myanmar.

“Ukraine’s arms sales have fuelled a shadow industry of Myanmar companies profiteering from the arms trade and enabling the military’s access to the weaponry it uses in ongoing atrocity crimes,” Yadanar Maung continued. 

The spokesperson also urged Ukraine’s own providers of military aid, such as the US, EU and UK, to use their leverage to end the country’s support to the Myanmar military.

“Military aid must be conditional on Ukraine imposing an arms embargo on Myanmar, shutting down their joint plant and ending all military ties,” Yadanar Maung said in the statement.

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