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How Growing Russian Arms Proliferation Inhibits Western Military Intervention Worldwide - From Myanmar to Syria to Venezuela

February 03rd - 2018

Recent Russian arms sales to Myanmar have been the latest in a long series of sales of advanced weapons systems by the country which have been adamantly opposed by the Western bloc. Among other weapons systems, Myanmar's armed forces are set to acquire six Russian made Su-30 heavy fighters in a deal agreed to following a visit by Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu to the country. Russian Deputy Defense Minister, Lieutenant General Alexander Fomin, indicated that these were likely to be the first of many such purchases and that Su-30 fighters were set to become the mainstay of Myanmar's Air Force. Fomin stated in regards to the purchase: "During the Russian defense minister’s visit an agreement was reached under which Myanmar would purchase six Su-30 planes" and that Sukhoi platforms "will become the main fighter aircraft of Myanmar’s air force to protect the country’s territorial integrity and repel any terror threats."

Myanmar has been under harsh Western sanctions for decades and remains a close partner of China, North Korea and increasingly Russia. With natural gas routes key to China's energy security, and amid the Western bloc's growing pivot to Asia and antagonism towards China, the South East Asian state increasingly stands in the way of the Western bloc's designs in the Asia-Pacific region. With the country currently facing internal ethnic conflict between its Muslim Rohingya population and Buddhist majority, the West has overwhelmingly taken the side of the Muslim minority and portrayed the country as a gross human rights abuser and even a 'rogue state.' Considering the recent cases of Libya, Yugoslavia and Syria, where such accusations of human rights abuses and concerted demonisation campaigns in Western press shortly preceded attempts to intervene militarily to instigate regime change, as well as the country's strategic importance, Myanmar could very well face a critical threat to its national security. What is notable of the purchase of the Su-30 fighters in this context is that such platforms are key to deterring or countering any direct attacks by the Western bloc. The Su-30 is more advanced than any air superiority platform currently in Western service other than the F-22 Raptor, significantly outperforming all U.S. naval platforms such as the F-18E, which would be the only ones capable of reaching the country by deploying from carriers in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. While Myanmar previously invested solely in light platforms such as the MiG-29 and JF-17, sufficient to protect its borders from neighbouring states and combat insurgent groups, the Su-30 marks the first time the country has sought dedicated air superiority fighters and could well have come in response to the increased threat of attack by far more capable external adversaries.

The induction of the Su-30 into Myanmar's Air Force would seriously complicate any military action against the country, and has been met with strong disapproval in the West. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert stated in response “we’ve seen some new troubling media reports that Russia intends to sell SU-30 fighter jets to the Burmese (Myanmar) armed forces. The reports, if confirmed, serve as another reminder of Russia's continued efforts to arm militaries that flagrantly violate human rights. While the Russian Federation says it favors constructive dialogue to resolve the crisis in Burma, the reports of plans to sell advanced military technology, if true, show otherwise. We urge the governments of both Russia and Burma to reconsider a further buildup in arms and fully commit their efforts to finding a peaceful and stable solution to that crisis." U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has accused the government of "ethnic cleansing" and "horrendous atrocities," taking a strong stance against the country's government while notably failing to condemn attacks by Islamic militants. Combat in its Rakhine region against Islamist forces has led to significant collateral damage against the civilian population - but the claims of ethnic cleansing remain highly questionable.

Russian arms sales across the world to adversaries of the Western bloc, primarily its Sukhoi air superiority fighters and variants of its S-300 air defence system, have been a major phenomenon in recent years. The proliferation of Anti Access Area Denial (A2AD) air defence systems in particular have been met with much concern in the Western bloc, with the U.S. Missile Defence Advocacy Alliance stating that this proliferation served to "impede our ability to project power, thus presenting a significant vulnerability." The MDAA in particular referred to Russian 'A2AD bubbles' in Eastern Europe and Syria as areas to which Western air forces could be denied the ability to project power. Several states alleged to be human rights abusers by the Western bloc, including Venezuela, Sudan, Eritrea, Belarus, Iran and Algeria have all received such weapons - while Russian deployment of these systems to Syria served a similar effect. North Korea meanwhile has not only received extensive Russian assistance in developing its own air defences, today fielding the KN-06 speculated to have capabilities similar to the S-300 if not superior, but Russia has also actively demonstrated its own air defence systems' coverage of the Korean Peninsula and deployed its most advanced air superiority fighters near the Korean border. These between them demonstrate Russia's ability to intercept any Western aircraft or missiles entering North Korean airspace - which are an excellent complement to the Asian state's own air defence systems.

Modern Russian weapons systems capable of denying Western forces air superiority, the Su-30 and S-300 being among the most prolific, are key inhibitors to Western 'humanitarian intervention' due to the Western bloc's heavy reliance on control of the skies to any military campaign. Had such advanced weapons systems been fielded and properly operated by Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia they could have seriously changed the courses of these states' histories for the better - and equally had they not been deployed to Venezuela, Syria or North Korea these countries could have long ago seen their countries similarly attacked. Ultimately the proliferation of Russian weapons systems capable of denying air superiority to Western air forces could well serve to end to or seriously curb Western "humanitarian interventionism." Protecting the sovereignty of those the West deems 'rogue states,' almost all of them close Russian partners, therefore incentivises Russia to widely proliferate these weapons systems, whether it be Su-30 fighters for Myanmar, air defence cooperation with North Korea or the export of the S-300 to Iran. Much as the toppling of the Libyan, Iraqi and Yugoslav governments led Russia to lose key and longstanding partners, so too would allowing Western military intervention against Russia's allies across the world leave Russia in a far more isolated and weaker position internationally. While the United States deploys its forces to military bases across the world to provide protection to its allies, Russia's far more cost effective strategy to maintain its global influence has been to protect its partners by providing them with the means to protect themselves.

The statements, views and opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Watch Magazine.

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