US Sanctions Burma Defense Ministry, Banks Over Russian Arms Imports

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The U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday sanctioned Burma’s Defense Ministry and two regime-controlled banks for their alleged roles in the junta’s weapon purchases from sanctioned entities in Russia.

The sanctions targeted the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank, which were used by the junta for foreign currency exchanges and buying arms from foreign sources.

State Secretary Antony Blinken said the banks had enabled state-owned enterprises to access foreign markets using offshore accounts, providing “significant financial resources” for the junta.

“We will continue to engage with our partners and allies in the broader international community to constrain the regime’s ability to exploit the international financial system to advance its violence and prolong the crisis while restricting the regime’s ability to transfer hard currency to Russia’s defense sector,” Blinken said.

The Treasury said the military regime has relied on foreign sources, including sanctioned Russian entities, to purchase and import arms, dual-use goods, and raw materials to manufacture weapons.

“Since the coup, the Ministry of Defense has continued to import goods and material worth at least $1 billion, including from sanctioned entities in Russia,” the department said in a statement.

“These imports have both provided revenue to Russia and provided access to military equipment that has facilitated the ongoing brutality inflicted on the people of Burma by the military,” it added.

One of the houses that were destroyed in an airstrike by the military junta in the Khuafo village, located north of the Chin State town of Thantlang, Burma, on March 30, 2023. (Free Burma Rangers)

The military regime ousted an elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021, sparking protests and clashes between the army and ethnic minority insurgents in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Several Western countries have hit the military junta and its businesses with sanctions over its suppression of anti-coup protesters and the prosecution of Suu Kyi.

Russia is also subjected to Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Burma, revealed in a May report that the junta procured weapons and equipment from companies operating in Russia, China, Singapore, Thailand, and India.

“Russia supplied the Yak-130 aircraft that dropped the bombs and has supplied Mi-35-type helicopters that were used to gun down civilians,” the report states.

“The bombs, machine guns, and ammunition likely relied on raw materials supplied by private entities operating from Singapore, China, and Thailand,” it added.

According to the report, Russian entities have shipped at least $406 million worth of arms, raw materials, and associated supplies to the military junta and arms dealers in Burma.

These arms transfers were made with “actual knowledge of the Myanmar military’s unlawful activity,” given that they occurred amid the widely reported bombing of civilian populations in Burma, the report states.

Andrews called on U.N. members to step up and curb the transfer of these weapons, identifying China and Russia—both U.N. members—as Burma’s main sources of cutting-edge weapons.

“Russia and China continue to be the main suppliers of advanced weapons systems to the Myanmar military, accounting for over $400 million and $260 million respectively since the coup, with much of the trade originating from state-owned entities,” he added.

The military junta has intensified the use of force, including aerial bombing of villages, schools, and medical facilities. More than 3,600 civilians have been killed, and nearly 1.5 million people have been displaced since the coup, according to the Treasury Department.

David Eubank, founder of Free Burma Rangers, said the situation in Burma is the worst he has seen in 30 years, with more than 30 airstrikes launched against civilians in Karenni state in February alone.

“I’ve never seen the Burma army come with such speed and force as they have now with Russian aircraft, jet fighters, attack helicopters, armor, multiple launches, rocket systems, and heavy artillery,” he told The Epoch Times.

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