August 11, 2023

Myanmar Airways Set to Launch Direct Flights to Russian Nuclear Hub

The Irrawaddy

An airline operated by a junta crony is set to launch direct flights between Myanmar and Russia’s third largest city next month.

Myanmar Airways International (MIA) will fly from Yangon and Mandalay to Russia’s Novosibirsk—the third largest city in Russia and a major producer of nuclear energy and technology— every Tuesday and Saturday starting from September 5. The ticket fare is US$ 409.

MAI is owned by Aung Aung Zaw, who sponsors junta boss Min Aung Hlaing’s international travel. But Russia, the major arms supplier of the regime, has been the only country Min Aung Hlaing can visit so far since the coup. MAI’s direct flight to Russia is its first international flight outside of Asia.

Amid international sanctions, Myanmar’s junta and Russia’s government have established and fostered multi-sectoral cooperation, from politics, diplomacy and nuclear technology, arms supply, to education and health.

Direct flights are a new step in collaboration between the two pariah states.

They also follow a cooperation agreement between Myanmar’s junta and Russian state-owned nuclear corporation Rosatom last year, which has major subsidiaries in Novosibirsk.

The flights will debut about one year after Min Aung Hlaing’s visit to Russia when he met President Vladimir Putin and discussed direct flights to promote tourism.

MAI was previously the national carrier. Kanbawza Group, owned by top crony Aung Ko Win, took it over under Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government. Aung Aung Zaw, who heads 24 Hour Groups of Companies, acquired the airline from Aung Ko Win in late 2018.

Ma Yadanar Maung, a spokesperson for advocacy group Justice for Myanmar (JFM), told The Irrawaddy: “MAI is a key business partner of the Myanmar military junta. MAI and the Myanmar Air Force have shared aircraft and the junta leadership use an MAI-branded aircraft for their international travel, including to Russia, where the junta leadership has discussed business and the purchase of arms.”

Following US sanctions against two state-owned banks – Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank—crucial to supplying US dollars for the regime,  Singapore’s United Overseas Bank (UOB) said it will shut all of MAI’s bank accounts by August 15.

Share the Post: