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Lavrov in Myanmar as Russia Courts Pariahs

The Russian foreign minister’s visit cements already close ties between the two heavily sanctioned nations.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
The empty chair of Myanmar’s foreign minister
The empty chair of Myanmar’s foreign minister
The empty chair of Myanmar’s foreign minister is seen during a plenary meeting session of the 55th Association of Southeast Asian Nations foreign ministers’ meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Aug. 3. MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s Myanmar visit, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip, and Yemen’s latest truce.

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Lavrov’s Myanmar Visit

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrovs Myanmar visit, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosis Taiwan trip, and Yemens latest truce.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Lavrov’s Myanmar Visit

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in Myanmar today, where he’s expected to meet with his Burmese counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, as well as other members of the country’s ruling junta.

Lavrov’s stop in Naypyidaw comes as he has been touring the world and shoring up alliances in the face of a Western sanctions campaign. Last week, it was Africa’s turn as he called on leaders in Egypt, Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

Lavrov is continuing a busy exchange between the countries. Junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has visited Moscow twice in the past two months: In June, he attended a security conference and met with Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s Security Council, while Moscow described his July trip as a “personal visit.”

Lavrov arrives as the junta, which took power in a Feb. 2021 coup, has once again become the target of international condemnation following its execution of four pro-democracy activists last week. The heavily sanctioned country even united the United Nations Security Council, when Russia and China joined its fellow council members in denouncing the killings.

Rather than cow opponents of the junta’s rule, the executions appear to have done the opposite. Myanmar’s anti-military resistance, which constitutes a mix of political groups and ethnic militias, issued a rare joint statement following the killings, vowing “unitedly and relentlessly to advance a people’s revolution to successfully eradicate the fascist military dictatorship as soon as possible.”

Despite the running conflict, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians so far, Russia isn’t about to cut ties with the junta. Myanmar’s strategically valuable position between India and China as well as its Indian Ocean access makes the country a valuable partner—and one that Russia has spent years cultivating.

But even though the Russia-Myanmar relationship isn’t new, it has accelerated as Myanmar positions itself as “possibly Russia’s most uncritical partner in Asia,” Laurel Miller, the Asia program director at the International Crisis Group, told Foreign Policy.

“I think what you can see is that youve got a little club of pariahs here,” Miller said. “And so, incentives that they had previously to develop their ties are magnified in a context of a shrinking circle of friends.”

There’s plenty in it for Myanmar’s junta too. Although arms sales have slowed since the coup, Russia, along with China, is still supplying the junta with weapons. That connection was on display last week, when rights group Myanmar Witness documented the use of Russian-made Yak-130 aircraft against civilians near the Myanmar-Thailand border. (FP’s Mary Yang reported on the expansion of the military’s campaign in Myanmar’s east in June.)

Following Min Aung Hlaing’s July visit, Russia’s defense ministry pledged to deepen military ties and “consistently build up multifaceted cooperation between the military departments of the two countries.”

For Myanmar, the relationship with Russia is not just a chance to keep on the good side of a powerful friend but also a way to hedge against Beijing. Not that the military is worried about relations with China, which has helped block meaningful action against Myanmar’s junta. Despite China’s protection, the United States is trying to pursue further punishment by considering sanctions on Myanmar’s energy sector, FP’s Robbie Gramer and Mary Yang report.

Before Lavrov, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited the country in July—the first time since the coup. Then, Wang was criticized for legitimizing the junta, which has so far been shunned by fellow Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members.

Will Lavrov’s visit provide a further sheen to ensure their grip on power? “The hopes for a peaceful negotiated resolution of the situation in Myanmar were so dim already that Im hard pressed to say that this dooms them further,” Miller said.

“The fact is [the junta leaders] are still in firm control, even though the population is overwhelmingly against them, and that doesnt look to be cracking anytime soon.”


What We’re Following

Pelosi in Taiwan. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen today in Taipei, Taiwan, as part of her controversial visit to the island, which concludes today. As Pelosi’s plane touched down in Taipei, Chinese officials warned that her visit “seriously undermines” Chinese sovereignty and U.S.-China relations. Beijing also announced fresh live-fire military exercises in areas surrounding Taiwan, including just 10 miles from the island’s shoreline.

Ukraine’s first shipment. Ukraine’s first grain shipment through the Black Sea since Russia’s invasion is expected to dock at a port in the Lebanese city of Tripoli today following its voyage from Odesa, Ukraine, on Monday. The roughly 27,000 tons of corn delivered today is the first but not the last ship to leave: Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said there were 16 ships waiting their turn to leave Odesa’s port.

ASEAN ministers meet. ASEAN foreign ministers gather in Phnom Penh as Cambodia hosts the 55th ministerial meeting for the group. The meeting precedes wider gatherings scheduled for Thursday when ministers from global powers—such as Russia, China, and the United States—will hold bilateral and group meetings with ASEAN ministers.


Keep an Eye On

Yemen’s truce. Yemen’s Houthis and a Saudi-backed coalition have agreed to extend their truce by another two months as it approached its expiration on Tuesday evening. The agreement falls short of a six-month extension that U.N. special envoy for Yemen Hans Grundberg was reportedly pushing for. “This truce extension includes a commitment from the parties to intensify negotiations to reach an expanded truce agreement as soon as possible,” Grundberg said in a statement.

Somalia’s new minister. Mukhtar Robow, a former spokesperson and deputy leader of the terrorist group al-Shabab, has been appointed as Somalia’s new religious affairs minister, Somalian Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre announced on Tuesday. He had spent the past four years under house arrest during the presidency of Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed but now finds himself in the cabinet of the recently elected Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Robow, who had previously had a $5 million U.S. bounty placed on him for his capture, defected from al-Shabab in 2017.


Odds and Ends

More than 700 tourism workers in Indonesia will go on strike until the end of August to protest a price hike for those wishing to see the country’s Komodo dragons.

The Indonesian government increased the price of admission to Komodo National Park from 200,000 rupiah ($13.40) to 3,750,000 rupiah ($251) to visit the main islands in Komodo National Park, a price workers say will drive most tourists away. Officials say the move is necessary to protect the giant lizards and is seen as a compromise from previous plans to ban tourists entirely.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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