The leader of Burma’s ruling junta called Russia a “true friend” during a speech after the Burmese military put on a show of strength for Armed Forces Day on March 27.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the new ruler of the country, also reiterated a promise to hold elections in the televised speech, which followed a military parade in the capital Naypyitaw marking Armed Forces Day.
Russian Defense Minister Aleksandr Fomin attended the event after meeting Min Aung Hlaing on March 26 and offering support for the military, according to Interfax.
Defense ties between Russia and Myanmar have grown in recent years, with Moscow providing training and selling arms.
Fomin called Burma a reliable ally and strategic partner of Russia in Asia, Interfax said on March 26.
“The Russian Federation is committed to a strategy aimed at bolstering relations between the two countries,” the Defense Ministry quoted Fomin as saying, according to Interfax.
Fomin said his visit to Burma was reciprocal after Min Aung Hlaing last year attended Russia’s parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of victory in the World War II.
Armed Forces Day in Burma, also known as Myanmar, commemorates the start of the military’s resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945.
Min Aung Hlaing and other military leaders seized power on February 1 in a coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained along with other government officials.
Security forces in the Southeast Asian country have killed more than 300 people in a violent crackdown on protesters demanding the return of Suu Kyi’s government.
Min Aung Hlaing said in his Armed Forces Day speech that the army “seeks to join hands with the entire nation to safeguard democracy.” The general added that authorities seek to protect the people and restore peace across the country.
Burma has been wracked by almost daily protests in a show of defiance against the coup despite warnings they risked being shot.
The protest movement has also included widespread strikes and civil disobedience by government workers.
A broadcast on the state television on March 26 warned that protesters should “learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back.”
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group said its figures show that at least a quarter of the people killed in the crackdown died from shots to the head, raising suspicions they were deliberately targeted.
The United Nations’ special envoy on Burma, Christine Schraner Burgener, said the military had turned against its own citizens.
“Women, youth and children have been among those killed,” she said in a statement on March 26.
The European Union and the United States on March 22 imposed sanctions on Burmese officials linked to the coup and crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.