08/08/2023, 00.00
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Russians find refuge in Myanmar

by Vladimir Rozanskij

As of 1 August, Russia will let Myanmar nationals enter its territory with easily accessible electronic visas, while Myanmar plans to open consulates in Novosibirsk and St Petersburg. As the war in Ukraine continues, many Russians are relocating to the Southeast Asian country. Given the  greater Russian presence, the Russian Orthodox Church announced the construction of a new Church of the Transfiguration in Yangon.

Moscow (AsiaNews) – As Russia turns east following its invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of sanctions by the West, it is moving closer and closer to Myanmar, another country hit by sanctions following a military coup in February 2021 that sparked a still ongoing civil war between the regular army and various resistance groups.

On 1 August, the citizens of Myanmar as well as Vietnam and Cambodia were authorised to enter Russia with easy-to-obtain electronic visas. For its part, Myanmar plans to consular offices in Novosibirsk and St Petersburg.

Since the war began, many Russians have sought refuge in the Southeast Asian country, thus avoiding the label of traitors. In a recent piece, RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities (in Russian) has tried to understand what draws Russians to a country where terrorist attacks and violent repression are daily occurrences.

One of them, Vladislav Kokorin, moved to Yangon in May 2022, shortly after the start of the invasion of Ukraine. “I first visited Myanmar back in 2010 and in a few weeks I realised that this was an incredibly interesting country, with a rich history and an ancient culture. Like Russia, it has experienced and continues to experience many ups and downs.”

For this reason, when the war broke out, he thought of moving to a place “where people know well what bad is and how to live with it”

Kokorin is into computers and can work remotely anywhere in the world. Myanmar is far from Russia, but its rulers have a rapport with the Kremlin, which allows Russians to maintain working relations with their home country, while those who moved to "unfriendly" places are increasingly excluded from relations with Russian companies and considered a relokant, "hostile" emigrants who must no longer have relations with the motherland.

Russia also sells weapons to Myanmar and trains its soldiers. and General Min Aung Hlaing, Myanmar’s military strongman, often visits Moscow, open in his show of support for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Myanmar has about 135 distinct ethnic groups and interethnic relations are not always easy; nevertheless, many have welcomed the Russians.

For his part, Kokorin now says he "feels really happy" in Myanmar. People here “are honest, good-natured, and so open that sometimes it even becomes uncomfortable.”

The persecution of some minorities, like the Rohingya Muslims, is certainly not a source of anguish for Russian émigrés, imbued with the notion, like in their own country, that certain ethnic groups, like Myanmar’s mostly Buddhist Bamar, who live by and large in the central areas, are entitled to rule.

Recent arrivals believe that because the military ruled so long, except for a brief democratic interlude, and closed the borders to foreigners for most of that time, the people of Myanmar have maintained their uniqueness.

Locals are clearly identifiable by their national dress, with men wearing skirts, chewing betel (which gives “the impression that they recently drank fresh blood”), and used Thanakha, a paste applied to the face as a circular patch, a practice that goes back thousands of years.

Long before they converted to Buddhism, locals have been devoted to Nats (protective spirits), with an altar dedicated to them next to their homes.

Such forms of animism survive alongside the official religion, something both Russians and Burmese share. Buddhism too is also part of Russia’s religious traditions.

In Myanmar, each village has a pagoda, often paid for by residents, covered in gold leaf. Despite widespread poverty, people are not upset by the construction of such splendid temples.

With the growing Russian presence, the Russian Orthodox Church has announced the construction of a new Church of the Transfiguration in Yangon, on land donated by municipal authorities, Metropolitan Sergiy, Patriarchal Exarch of Singapore and All South-East Asia, announced.

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