“There is no point in staying alive under the junta.” How Myanmar became the scene of a new Cold War

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The military coup in Myanmar ended with protests and now there is almost real fighting. How it happened

In Myanmar, protests against the military who carried out the coup have been going on for more than a month. The soldiers did not manage to take control of the situation, so they started shooting at the protesters with military weapons: in just one day, March 3, 38 people were killed. More than 50 protesters per month. The army is not afraid of international isolation and is going to continue repression. The protesters are also resolute, claiming that it is better to die than to live under the junta. And the UN warns about the threat of destabilization of the region and “real war”. What is happening in Myanmar, how it became a battlefield in the new “cold war” and what awaits the country next


The military coup took place on February 1. Unsatisfied with the outcome of the parliamentary elections, the army decided to take power by force. The soldiers arrested the top leadership of Myanmar, in particular, the de facto leader of the country, Aung San Suu Kyi; announced the transfer of power to the commander-in-chief of the army, Min Aung Hlain, and the introduction of a state of emergency for a year. All this happened against the background of disruptions in the work of banks and mobile communications. The army replaced the leadership of the country’s Central Election Commission and promised to hand over power to civilians, holding elections a year later.

Although this is the third military coup in the history of Myanmar and the country was previously ruled by the army for almost 50 years, this time the soldiers failed to take control of the situation. A few days after the seizure of power, a protest movement was formed in the country, increasing its numbers every day. Even civil servants protested: at first, doctors refused to go to work. Later, they were joined by employees of the Central Bank, teachers, airport workers, railway workers, and so on.

The soldiers tried to turn off the internet and Facebook to make it harder to coordinate the protest, but this did not help and the rally continued to grow. Although these were mostly peaceful demonstrations, in which people handed out water and flowers to law enforcement officers and urged to join them, by the end of February the military decided to start suppressing the protests. At the same time, the first victims appeared, since the police and the military used not only tear gas or rubber bullets, but also military weapons.

The escalation of the conflict peaked on March 3, marking Myanmar’s “bloodiest day” since the coup. The military opened fire on the protesters without any warning. Combat weapons were used in several cities, so 38 people were killed during the day during the clashes.

But this did not frighten people. On March 4, tens of thousands of people again protested across the country. The army continued to fire military weapons without warning. And over the second largest city in Myanmar, Mandalay, they even noticed military aircraft, which is supposedly a demonstration of the strength of the army.


The UN calls what is happening shocking, stating that in total more than 50 people have already died at the hands of law enforcement officers there. UN envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener calls for “very tough measures” against the military junta, saying that the situation in the country could destabilize the entire region and lead to “real war.”

“The UN warning indicates that the internal political confrontation in Myanmar is gaining alarming proportions and may escalate into a serious conflict,” Candidate of Political Science, Lecturer at the Institute of International Relations, KNU named after Shevchenko Alexander Mishin.

Myanmar civil war could start if protesters gain access to weapons, expert of the Ukrainian Institute of the Future Iliya Kusa: “It can be supplies from abroad, the seizure of ships, the transfer to the other side of part of the security forces. Another option is a serious split between the elites and the army. This is not yet available.”

A number of countries (USA, UK, Canada and the EU) have already introduced or are considering imposing sanctions against the military and their business partners. Washington, for example, has restricted trade with Myanmar. Such action by the international community could seriously hit Myanmar, one of the poorest countries in the world. It was precisely democratization and the subsequent way out of international isolation that once helped to avoid its complete collapse.

China and Russia will veto any effective decisions of the UN Security Council that stabilize the situation in Myanmar. This is a protective dome for the military junta, says Alexander Mishin, candidate of political sciences.

The US State Department also asked China to influence the military, but this is unlikely to help. Russia and China are blocking the adoption of any UN Security Council decisions on Myanmar, calling what is happening there “an internal affair.” De facto, Moscow and Beijing support the military junta.

“Much in this situation depends on the UN Security Council, but China and Russia will veto any effective decisions that stabilize the situation in Myanmar. This is a protective dome for the military junta, which will try to stifle popular resistance,” Mishin explains. According to him, Russia, whose armored vehicles are used by the junta against the protesters, has a destabilizing influence in Myanmar. He clarifies that the intervention of third countries in the conflict in Myanmar is possible if there is a mandate formalized by a UN Security Council resolution, but this requires weighty arguments and political will of the leading states. Now, he says, there is still little reason for such a scenario.

The civil war in Myanmar ended only in 2012, now the anti-democratic actions of the military can return the country to this state, says Mishin

Kusa adheres to a similar opinion, stating that there are no signals for the international community to intervene in the conflict now. The West does not want to get involved in a conflict in distant Asia, the expert says, while regional players have so far taken a wait-and-see attitude – they silently continue to cooperate with Myanmar.

“Myanmar is a very important state for China, because it allows projecting power through it to the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia,” Gleb Parfenov, Doctrine Center Security Policy Coordinator. He explains that Beijing’s support for the junta significantly reduces the likelihood of third-party intervention in this conflict: “Now the US is just beginning to form a strategy for China, and Blinken’s statement of unwillingness to spread democracy (through the violent overthrow of regimes – ed.) testifies that it is getting harder and harder for them to be the world’s gendarme. China is taking advantage of this. ”


The conflict in Myanmar is not going to fade now, as both sides are determined to fight decisively. The military is confident that they are right and are not afraid of international isolation. “We are accustomed to sanctions, and we survived. We must learn to live with only a few friends,” the UN envoy to Myanmar said the words of the deputy head of the local military, Seo Win. Also, the protesters are not going to give up. “We know that we can always be shot, but under the junta there is no point in staying alive,” one of the protesters said.

“The society mostly does not want the return of the junta, since this will throw the country back into the past, and earlier the transition to democracy took more than five years of planned reforms,” ​​Parfenov explains the motivation of the protesters. At the same time, it is too early to talk about a full-fledged civil war, the expert believes.

We have witnessed one of the first confrontations of the new Cold War between the United States and China, says expert Gleb Parfenov

“There are significant risks of renewal of separatist conflicts in multinational Myanmar, different ethnic groups can again take up arms … The civil war ended only in 2012, and now the anti-democratic actions of the military can return the country to this state,” Mishin said, adding that Myanmar has every chance of falling into a state of “somalization” and for its neighbors (India, Thailand and Bangladesh) the risk of a wave of refugees is increasing.

However, threats can also have a much broader context. “We have witnessed one of the first confrontations of the new Cold War between the United States and China,” Parfenov says, explaining that the issue is about the struggle between authoritarian and democratic regimes. The first is supported by China and Russia, the second by the West. According to him, the victory of the junta could make the region of Southeast Asia, important for Washington, more vulnerable to Beijing: “There is a chance that Chinese military bases will appear there for the rapidly growing fleet.”

The Biden administration, Kusa says, is facing a dilemma: values ​​versus interests. “If we stick to the line of values, then the United States should intervene on the side of the demonstrators and protect them,” he explains. If we take interests as a basis, the expert says, then it is unprofitable for the United States to impose sanctions, since the isolation of Myanmar could push it into the arms of China.

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