Ukraine is arming the Myanmar military

September 8, 2021

Ukraine has developed deep links to the Myanmar military, with arms exports and technology transfers continuing, even after the Myanmar military has committed mass murder amounting to atrocity crimes following its illegitimate coup attempt.

According to Ukrainian export data, accessed via Import Genius, Motor Sich exported engines and parts to Myanmar twice since the military’s attempted coup. A May 2021 shipment to the Myanmar army's directorate of procurement contained turbojet engine equipment, and a February shipment to the private air force supplier Sky Aviator contained mechanical parts.

Motor Sich is a major Ukrainian manufacturer of engines for aircraft and missiles. The Ukrainian state is nationalising the firm from its majority Chinese owners. A Ministry of Defence document leaked to Justice For Myanmar, details the purchase of Mil Mi-17 parts from Motor Sich in 2015-16 via Myanmar Avia Export (likely predecessor of Myanmar Avia Services), a crony company owned by Tay Za. Ukrainian export records also show a series of shipments to the Myanmar Air Force from 2019 onwards.

In May 2021, state-owned arms manufacturer Ukroboronservice shipped over 164 kilos of aircraft parts to Yatanarpon Aviation. This followed shipments in December 2020 of navigational devices and control instruments to Yatanarpon Aviation.

In June 2021 Ukraine voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution to stop the flow of arms to Myanmar. The country’s transfers are only the most recent examples of significant arms links that amount to aiding and abetting the atrocity crimes of the Myanmar military.

See a list of businesses and individuals linked to Myanmar arms procurement from Ukraine for targeted sanctions: Download Excel File (21 kb)

Building Myanmar’s arms industry

Ukraine’s significant military ties with Myanmar can be seen in a joint project to produce BTR-4 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), MMT-40 light tanks and 2SIU self-propelled howitzers. The plant is a partnership between the Myanmar military’s Directorate of Defence Industry, Ukrainian state-owned arms conglomerate, Ukroboronprom, the state arms trade company, Ukrspecexport, and Myanmar Chemical & Machinery (MCM), a private Myanmar arms broker.

The project may be the outcome of a 2019 agreement, according to Defence Blog. An October 2020 Facebook post by Ukrspecexport described a three-year contract, signed with the Ministry of Defence of an unspecified Asian country, likely Myanmar. The contract was for the production and repair of armoured personnel carriers, as well as for the repair and upgrading of light armoured equipment. It is unclear if the plant is already in production.

This follows a 2018 agreement on military-technical cooperation negotiated between Ukraine and Myanmar defence ministries that came into force in June 2019. The agreement, signed under the National League for Democracy-led government, specified seven points for military cooperation, including research and development of arms, production of conventional weapons, the supply of arms and related equipment, and joint sales and marketing of arms in third countries.

Ukrainian export records show MCM received initial shipments of equipment for the production of BTR-4U APCs and 2S1Us from Ukrspecexport in 2015.

Through 2018 and 2019, Amethyst Trading, a subsidiary of MCM, received shipments of BTR-3U and MMT-40 parts from Ukrspecexport. This included chassis, engine parts, electrical components, night vision devices and laser rangefinders, as well as technical documentation for assembly, and machine sets for production.

From 2015 to 2020, Ukrspecexport also shipped equipment to the Directorate of Defence Industry for the joint plant, such as horizontal boring, welding, cutting and lathe machinery.

Other exports from Ukrspecexport include 80K6K1 and 36D6 3D mobile air surveillance radar and electrical equipment shipped to the Myanmar Air Force from 2018-2020.

Ukroboronprom and Ukrspecexport did not respond to questions from Justice For Myanmar regarding their business with the Myanmar military and the status of the joint project.

The Myanmar military’s brokers

Ukraine’s business with the Myanmar military has enriched private Myanmar companies who facilitate the arms trade. They must be targeted for sanctions to stop the flow of arms and related materiel to Myanmar.

Aung Hlaing Oo and MCM Group

Aung Hlaing Oo, a major arms procurer conducting substantial business with Ukrainian state arms manufacturers, was appointed as Ukraine’s honorary consul to Myanmar in January 2017.

Aung Hlaing Oo heads Myanmar Chemical & Machinery (MCM) group of companies. Amethyst Trading, a main consignee of parts for the Ukrspecexport project, is listed on the MCM Pacific website as one of MCM group’s companies.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry website lists an MCM Pacific email address as the contact for Ukraine’s honorary consul in Myanmar.

According to a private sector source with military connections, Aung Hlaing Oo receives commissions of 20-30% on arms sales from Ukraine, which amount to substantial profits for his businesses and the Ukrainian state.  

A leaked Ministry of Defence document, received by Justice For Myanmar, detail procurement activities in 2016-17 involving MCM Pacific Pte. Ltd., Aung Hlaing Oo’s Singapore business, for Mil Mi-2 and Mil Mi-17 helicopter parts, APC parts, a marine diesel engine, a ship propulsion system and stern arrangement. Myanmar Chemical & Machinery Co. Ltd in Yangon also procured T-72 battle tank parts. Items are billed in US dollars and Euros.

Ukrainian export records show a large number of Ukrspecexport shipments to Amethyst Trading of T-72S tank parts in 2018 and BTS-4 armoured recovery vehicle parts in 2019.

In addition to its business in Ukraine, MCM also procures arms from Serbia for the Myanmar military. A 2019 MCM proposal for the Myanmar Air Force, leaked to Justice For Myanmar, details aircraft-mounted rocket launchers, rockets, free-fall bombs, a multiple bomb launcher for use “on large surfaces” and fuses.

MCM lists Sinotruk, a Chinese truck company that supplies trucks to the Myanmar army, as a partner in their business profile. Sinotruk vehicles are ubiquitous in the military’s brutal crackdown following their attempted coup and the company’s links to German truck manufacturer MAN have been investigated by Justice For Myanmar. The private sector source disclosed that MCM is involved in the production of Miltruk-branded Sinotruk military vehicles produced in an assembly plant in Meiktila.

Myanmar Consultancy Company and Yatanarpon Aviation Support Company

Ukrainian export data shows that Myanmar Consultancy Company received regular Ukrspecexport shipments from 2016-2020, largely of MiG-29 fighter jet parts, installation machinery, as well as 36D6 air surveillance radar components and an IGLA-1M surface-to-air missile simulator.

In 2019, Myanmar Consultancy also received shipments of RD-33 turbofan engines from the state-owned Lutsk Repair Plant “Motor”, used in MiG-29 aircraft.

Justice For Myanmar previously detailed shipments of land-based radar sold to Myanmar Consultancy by Indian state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd.

Dr Naing Htut Aung, a major arms broker, is a former director and shareholder of Myanmar Consultancy. Dr Naing Htut Aung’s businesses, Gateways International Holding Company and International Gateways Group of Company, were registered at the same address as Myanmar Consultancy until late 2020. Gateways International continues to have the same phone number as Myanmar Consultancy. According to a private sector source with military connections, Dr Naing Htut Aung is a dominant procurer of weapons systems, spare parts and upgrades for the navy and air force and is an agent for major Chinese state-owned arms producers. International Gateways Group also donated funds to the Myanmar military in September 2017, supporting the crime of genocide.

Myanmar Consultancy’s website has been down since 2012. An archived copy lists the company’s mission to provide a “gateway” for foreign direct investment to the public and private sectors. A core objective is “to develop the industry and high technologies in the State.” Justice For Myanmar has published a leaked Myanmar Consultancy air force technical proposal from 2019.

Myanmar Consultancy was an online exhibitor at the MAKS 2021 air show in Russia, which coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attended in person.

Myanmar Consultancy is registered at the same address as Yatanarpon Aviation Support Company with the same phone number. The two businesses also share a common director, Than Lwin. Yatanarpon Aviation Support received aircraft parts from Ukroboronservice in December 2020 and May 2021.

Yatanarpon Aviation Support is headed by Sit Taing Aung, the son of Aung Phone, the forestry minister under Myanmar’s previous junta, the State Peace and Development Council. Sit Taing Aung’s Suntac group of companies was previously subject to EU sanctions for its links to the military junta.

Sit Taing Aung is Mexico’s honorary consul to Myanmar.

Sky Aviator

Sky Aviator is an arms supplier based in Yangon that has received a number of shipments of Ukrainian aircraft parts from Motor Sich, from May 2018 to as recently as February 2021, following the attempted military coup.

A leaked Ministry of Defence document shows the company has additionally provided T-72S tank parts to the army.

Since the February attempted coup, Sky Aviator has also received a number of Russian arms shipments including YAK-130 support equipment from Concern Radio-Electronic Technologies (KRET), refitted turbojet engines from United Engine Corporation and engine parts from Rosoboronexport.

Sky Aviator has expertise in Russian helicopters. A leaked August 2019 Sky Aviator proposal to the office of the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Air Force offers an upgrade to Mi-24P helicopters and states they are the exclusive representative of JSC Russian Helicopter in Myanmar.

In May, the company’s chief engineer reviewed a Moscow State Technical University of Civil Aviation PhD thesis, disclosing that the research had practical application for Sky Aviator’s maintenance, repair and operations of Mi-17 helicopters.

Trident Marine

Trident Marine is a private company whose director includes Zaw Win Oo, an associate of the Myanmar military through his directorship of Solutions Hub, part of military linked mobile money service Easy Pay.

According to Ukrainian export records, state-owned arms manufacturer Ukroboronservice sent ship technical documents and parts to Trident Marine Co. Ltd. in 2019.

A leaked Ministry of Defence document shows that Trident Marine also procured ship parts for the Myanmar Navy in 2015-16, including navigation equipment, electrical fittings and steering equipment. These purchases were made through Singapore-based D&K Intertrade, a private company whose directors are all Myanmar nationals. D&K Intertrade’s website describes its business as trade in “semiconductors and other electrical parts and components”.

Trident Marine’s 2019 purchases from Ukraine were shipped to an address at No.25, Myint Zu Street in Yangon, which is not the listed business address of the company. The Myint Zu Street address is the location of Amber Star Trading Co. Ltd. The Amber Star website lists its business scope as including naval architecture, reverse engineering, unmanned systems and technology transfer, and describes D&K Intertrade as its Singapore branch. It also has a branch in Naypyidaw.

Interstellar, Limited

A leaked 2019 Interstellar proposal to the Myanmar Air Force shows the company is an official sales agent for the import of aviation parts from Ukroboronprom, specialising in Mi-2 and Mi-17 helicopters and MiG-29 fighter jets. Interstellar is also a broker for ALLWE Foreign Trade Company.  

Interstellar was an online exhibitor at the MAKS 2021 air show in Russia, which coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attended in person.

Ukraine is aiding and abetting atrocity crimes

In August and September 2017, the Myanmar military carried out a campaign of genocide against the Rohingya, committing mass murder, rape and gang rape, destroying property and driving more than 800,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh. Instead of fulfilling their international obligations and standing for justice, the Ukrainian government increased cooperation with the Myanmar military.

Following the international crimes committed by the Myanmar military in 2017, the European Union and USA strengthened sanctions against the military, and the UN Human Rights Council formed an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar to investigate the atrocities.

In August 2019, the Fact-Finding Mission released a report on the economic interests of the Myanmar military, which detailed Ukrspetsexport and Ukroboronprom arms manufacturing activities in Myanmar, which supports the Myanmar military’s arms production capabilities.

The Fact-Finding Mission noted that Ukraine is a signatory of (but not party to) the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and warned against contravention of the object and purpose of the treaty. Ukraine must have known that arms provided to Myanmar would be used to breach the human rights of the people.

The Fact-Finding Mission concluded that Ukraine “provided arms and other related equipment in breach of their Common Article 1 obligations as a matter either of treaty law or of customary international humanitarian law. The Mission also reached the conclusion under the general rules of State responsibility that prohibit aiding or assisting another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act, that these States knew, or were virtually certain, that the assistance would be used for unlawful purposes.”

Ukraine has so far blatantly ignored the Fact-Finding Mission’s recommendations, proceeding with arms and technology transfers and the development of the manufacturing plant after the August 2019 report.  

Following the attempted coup, Ukraine’s shameful history of arms sales was on display in the streets as the military used older Ukrainian BTR-3Us as part of the bloody crackdown.

Despite overwhelming evidence of Ukraine’s complicity in the Myanmar military’s international crimes, the country is sticking to its bilateral military technical cooperation agreement and has not imposed an arms embargo.

Asked by Deutsche Welle if they will stop cooperation with the Myanmar military following the attempted coup, a spokesperson for Ukroboronprom, the association of state arms enterprises, responded that they export in accordance with Ukrainian law and international obligations, noting that Ukraine has not imposed sanctions or an arms embargo on Myanmar.

The spokesperson also said that the military technical cooperation agreement is still valid under the military junta. “Following socio-political stabilisation of the situation in Myanmar, we hope to continue to pursue our existing obligations”.

Stop the flow of arms!

Since the illegal attempted coup, the military junta has murdered 1049 people, including children as young as six, with over 6200 still detained as of September 6. An estimated 230,000 have been displaced as of June, many in ethnic areas, as the Myanmar military has dramatically increased airstrikes and shelling, which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. These attacks likely involve Ukrainian technology.

Ukraine must end its complicity in the Myanmar military’s atrocity crimes. Immediate steps that need to be taken include imposing an arms embargo, cutting ties with the Myanmar military, revoking the bilateral military technical cooperation agreement, preventing production at the joint arms plant and withdrawing Aung Hlaing Oo’s position as honorary consul.  

Given Ukraine’s persistent failure to abide by international law and norms, the international community must also act to ensure Ukraine fulfils its international obligations.

Ukraine receives significant military aid from the US, UK and EU. The US alone has provided approximately US$2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine since 2014, with US$60 million announced in August.  

Ukroboronprom holds regular talks with NATO and its member states, while NATO as recently as July 2021 expressed a commitment to support the reform of Ukraine’s arms industry to bring it closer to “NATO standards”.

So why have Ukraine’s donors and allies tolerated the arms trade with Myanmar? We call on Ukraine’s partners to make future aid conditional on Ukraine imposing an arms embargo on Myanmar, shutting down the arms manufacturing plant and ending all military ties.

Without a global arms embargo on Myanmar, the criminal military junta will find ways to purchase arms to use against the people. It is imperative that the UN Security Council passes a resolution to stop the flow of arms to Myanmar.

Finally, the Myanmar military’s network of private arms companies, their directors and owners must be urgently targeted for sanctions and denied access to international banks.

The UK’s decision to impose sanctions on Tay Za and Htoo Group, and the US restrictions on King Royal Technologies, are positive steps but more businesses procuring arms and dual use goods for the Myanmar military must be sanctioned at a faster pace to make an impact on the military junta.

Singapore must end the use of its territory as a business hub for arms brokers.

As the Myanmar military’s terror campaign continues, the international community needs to step up and take concrete action against the criminal Myanmar military and its partners. The Myanmar military cartel must be dismantled.

Explore our evidence

Interstellar Ltd aircraft proposal (PDF)

Myanmar Chemical & Machinery profile (PDF)

Myanmar Chemical & Machinery technical proposal (PDF)

Myanmar Consultancy Company C235 proposal (PDF)

Sky Aviator Mi-24P upgrade proposal (PDF)

Correction (September 8, 2021)

Motor Sich's May 2021 shipment was to the Myanmar army's directorate of procurement, not the air force.