Myanmar junta discusses nuclear technology with Russian atomic energy agency

A junta delegation discussed collaboration concerning nuclear technology with a Russian state-owned atomic energy agency while attending the country’s economic forum late last week, according to military-run media.

Junta-appointed ministers from the commerce and energy sectors—including Win Shein, Aung Naing Oo, Ko Ko Hlaing, Pwint San and Thaung Han as well as Central Bank deputy governor Than Than Swe—attended the 25th St Petersburg International Economic Forum from June 15-18. 

Propaganda newspaper the Global New Light of Myanmar (GLNM) reported that the military council’s minister for electric power and energy Thaung Han met with Alexey Likhachev, director-general of Russia’s ROSATOM State Nuclear Energy Corporation, and discussed equipment production using nuclear energy, as well as Myanmar’s electricity consumption.

When contacted by Myanmar Now on Tuesday, ROSATOM’s Southeast Asia office offered no additional details on the meeting. 

The junta continues to face a fuel and electricity shortage that has become more pronounced amid the international isolation and sanctions imposed on the military council since the February 2021 coup. 

During the Russia trip, multiple discussions and agreements were held concerning petrol supply and power generation in Myanmar, with the coup council officials reportedly discussing “long-term cooperation” with Russia to meet energy needs, according to GLNM.

Thaung Han reportedly signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Russia’s INTER RAO-Export to work together on issues related to electricity production. He also held talks concerning the construction of an oil refinery in Myanmar as well as the import and sale of fuel with the leadership of another corporation, Sigma LLC, GLNM said. 

While the connection between the two countries has been particularly evident since last year’s coup, Myanmar’s talks with Russia specifically surrounding nuclear technology are not new. In 2007, under a previous junta headed by Than Shwe, the country signed a deal with ROSATOM to build a nuclear reactor in the country for research purposes. 

Russian officials said in 2016 that they had trained a “large number” of Myanmar students in nuclear technology since the deal was made. At the time, a ROSATOM official told the Myanmar Times that at least 700 Myanmar students—military officers—had graduated from programs in Russia in which they studied “nuclear-related fields but not nuclear physics.”

In 2015, under ex-general Thein Sein’s administration, Myanmar signed another MoU with Russia on cooperation related to nuclear technology. Further details of the agreement remain unknown. 

Residents of North Dagon Township in Yangon queue for water in March, which they were unable to pump amid an electricity shortage (Myanmar Now)

More than 7,000 Myanmar army officers have undergone training in and received university scholarships to Russia, which has also become a major provider of military hardware for a regime facing arms embargoes from the West.

In June 2021, days after the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the halt of weapons exports to Myanmar amid violent crackdowns on peaceful anti-dictatorship protesters, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing left for a week-long visit to Russia. It was his second official trip abroad since his attempted seizure of power four months earlier, and only the seventh in his decades-long military career.

Since the coup, generals including Soe Win, deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and then-air force chief Maung Maung Kyaw also visited the country. 

Myanmar’s military junta openly expressed support for Russian President Vladimir Putin regarding his invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, accusing the US and its allies of plotting to pit the two nations against one another. 

Commentary published in military-run media in late February titled “Lessons from Ukraine for those who haven’t learned from history” dismissed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a Western puppet and commended Putin for being a “visionary leader.”

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