New Russian arms sales fuel civil war

January 28, 2021

In recent days, the Myanmar military has intensified attacks in Karen State, burning houses and further undermining the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. This is part of a wider pattern of attacks in ethnic areas of Myanmar, where the military routinely commits war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The military’s abuses are enabled by their international arms procurement networks and business interests. While the people of Myanmar suffer grave human rights violations and the health and economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Myanmar military continues unchecked military spending. During Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu’s recent visit to Myanmar, a deal was reached for the purchase of a Pantsir-S1 air defence system, Orlan-10E (“e” is the export model) drones and radar. These purchases will further drain the national budget, empower the Myanmar military and enable surveillance and indiscriminate attacks against ethnic communities.

The Orlan-10 are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can be used for reconnaissance and surveillance missions. According to data from ASSURE, they can fly at an altitude of 5000 metres with a range of around 120km. The Orlan-10 is manufactured by Special Technology Center (STC) in Russia.

The Pantsir-S1 is a short range air defence system designed to defend against "small military and administrative-industrial objects and areas against aircrafts, helicopters, cruise missiles and high-precision weapons, guided air bombs and unmanned aerial vehicles as well as... ensuring of engagement of lightly-armored targets." The system includes surface-to-air missiles, a search radar and a tracking radar mounted on a truck. It is manufactured in Russia by KBP Instrument Design Bureau, a subsidiary of Rostec, a Russian state-owned enterprise founded by Vladimir Putin in 2007. According to RealClearDefence, the cost of a Pantsir-S1 unit is around US$15 million.

The US placed sanctions on STC in 2016 in response to Russian interference in the US election, citing STC's signals intelligence support to the Russian intelligence service GRU. Rostec was sanctioned in 2014 in response to "Russian efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine".

According to InformNapalm, a group of volunteer journalists based in the Ukraine, the Orlan-10 contains parts from international suppliers, which they claim to have found after dismantling a captured drone. Parts include a starter generator from Texas Instruments (USA), an ignition module from Saito (Japan), flight controller chips from STMicroelectronics (Switzerland), NXP Semiconductors (Netherlands) and Honeywell (USA), a transmitter from Municom (Germany) and a GPS module built on a chip from Analog Devices (USA).

Justice For Myanmar examined patents related to Orlan-10 UAVs and found additional evidence that STC is using technology from the US and Europe. For instance, a patent for a jamming method and device applied for in 2013 involves a frequency converter built using a module from Texas Instruments and a Virtex chip from Xilinx (USA). A Dallas Semiconducter (USA) chip is used for a delay unit. A patent application submitted in 2015 for a device to determine coordinates of a radio emission uses chips from Texas Instruments and Analog Devices.

STC’s access to technology from the US, Europe and Japan raises serious questions about the responsibility of international businesses and their governments in Russian arms sales to Myanmar. Businesses selling dual-use goods to STC and other businesses supplying arms to Myanmar could be in breach of their international obligations to uphold human rights under the UN Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Responsible Business. Governments of the US, Japan and Europe must uphold their obligations under the Wassenaar Arrangement and sanctions against Myanmar and prevent the sale of arms and dual use goods to the Myanmar military.

As long as the Myanmar military’s criminal conduct continues, international governments and businesses must be vigilant and take proactive measures to prevent their technology from reaching the Myanmar military, both directly and through third parties.

Russia’s new arms sales will fuel Myanmar’s civil war and result in war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Russian state and arms businesses are complicit in those crimes. Justice For Myanmar calls for a moratorium on all arms and dual use goods sales to Myanmar. The Myanmar military cartel must be dismantled and the military placed under civilian control for Myanmar to achieve a sustainable peace.