A military exercise commenced in Russia on Monday under the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus) Experts’ Working Group on Counter Terrorism, co-chaired by the Russian and Myanmar junta defence ministries.
Six countries were notably absent from the five-day event, which is being held at the Eastern Military District’s Sergeevsky training ground in Russia’s Primorsky Region.
Singapore, a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), is among the countries that have decided not to attend, according to Russian state news agency TASS. Singapore also did not attend a tabletop exercise held in Naypyitaw in August.
Others absent are Australia, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and the United States, which have refused to attend ADMM-Plus counter terrorism activities since 2022.
TASS reported that 700 military personnel are participating in the event, which will involve the deployment of fighter aircraft, helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other military equipment. Participants will jointly plan a counterterrorism operation, which will then be simulated in practical drills.
Explaining its rationale for boycotting the ADMM exercises, a spokesperson for the US Department of Defence said in June that Russia and Myanmar were abusing their positions as co-chairs of the group to imply that their own atrocities and disregard for the rule of law were supported by other governments.
The junta has publicly stated that the counterterrorism exercises can be used against resistance forces, including the shadow National Unity Government (NUG) and its armed wing, the People’s Defence Force (PDF), which the regime has labelled “terrorist organisations.”
In an article published in August, Min Khant, a columnist for junta mouthpiece the Global New Light of Myanmar, called on the public to “combat against terrorism in unity” with the regime, referring to all acts of resistance against military rule.
There were also references to the NUG and PDF as terrorist organisations at an ADMM-Plus counter-terrorism conference held in Khabarovsk, Russia, in June, as well as in written conference materials translated into English, Russian, and Mandarin and distributed to the member governments.
The activist group Justice For Myanmar condemned the exercise, accusing ASEAN of aiding and abetting junta war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“While the refusal of six countries to attend sends a strong message to the junta that it is losing support, ASEAN as a bloc must take a firm stand against the junta’s campaign of terror,” the group’s spokesperson, Yadanar Maung, told Myanmar Now.
In August, 551 organisation wrote an open letter to ASEAN and dialogue partner defence ministries requesting they cancel or refuse to attend the military training in Russia, arguing that it “contradicts the ASEAN Charter, which states adherence to the principles of peaceful settlement of disputes, democracy, respect for and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
The ADMM-Plus manages seven experts’ working groups made up of defence officials from all 10 ASEAN member states, as well as eight dialogue partners with direct interests in Southeast Asian regional security: the US, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, and South Korea.