Can the Burmese Defeat the Myanmar Junta?

On Feb. 01, 2021, Myanmar was taken by storm as senior officers of the Tatmadaw deposed the democratically elected government and immediately suspended the constitution and all political activities. The coup d’état came at an opportunistic time for the junta, as the new members of parliament were due to swear in to their new titles only a day before.

Political repression has been widespread, and the junta has become one of the world’s most brutal regime since Idi Amin’s reign of terror. Despite the crackdowns, civilian activists and rebels have attempted to restore their democracy, engaging the junta directly through activism and force.


Myanmar has suffered a turbulent history with its military having unchecked power. The Tatmadaw ruled the nation for over forty-nine years from 1962 to 2011, in which Naypyidaw became internationally isolated and economically crippled from decades of martial law.

The original military junta was disbanded in a turbulent power sharing agreement with a new semi-democratic system in the country. This changed when senior military officials who felt they were losing power in the democratic system overthrew the government again in 2021.

The Junta

The Myanmar junta is led by General Min Aung Hlaing, who was ambitious in his career, rapidly rising through the ranks of the military and seeing it as the true power in the nation. General Hlaing was shrouded in controversy during his tenure in service as he engaged with methods of total war against various armed groups, rather than partaking in a peace process. He is one of the senior officers who stocked the refugee crisis with the Rohingyas, leading to widespread ethnic cleansing, which was labeled as a genocide.

Brutal Repressions

Numerous executions and deaths have been recorded during the junta’s timeline in power. On July 25, 2022, the Tatmadaw executed four dissidents, one of them was a former member of parliament to international condemnation. Leading figures of the junta were subsequently sanctioned, but the deaths would continue.

Last December, the junta would unjustly sentence ten more dissidents, seven of them are university student activists. Overall, the Tatmadaw have sentenced 138 dissidents to death, forty-one of them were in absentia as many have fled the country during the junta’s purge.

During the ongoing military occupation, 165 children have been killed by the junta, documented by the exiled government and verified by the International Crisis Group. The UN Special Rapporteur also reported that kids are frequently tortured to give up information of rebel groups, activists, and dissidents. Methods include sexual assault, beatings, and maiming of body parts. As of the end of December 2022, over 2,660 people have been killed by the junta.

Who is Supporting the Junta?

The junta has been heavily supported by Russia, which after becoming internationally isolated due to its ill-fated war in Ukraine, has backed the increasingly isolated Tatmadaw. China, for economic interests in Myanmar, also quietly backs the junta. Both Moscow and Beijing have used their seats in the United Nations Security Council to shield probes and condemnations towards it.

During the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, General Min Aung Hlaing has made several visits to the Kremlin, signaling a potential military cooperation. Despite the execution of activists and dissidents, Putin reaffirmed his support for the Tatmadaw to continue retaining power.

It should come as no surprise that the Kremlin has interests in the Tatmadaw, as a number of military juntas have become backed by Moscow to continue weapons sales to backfill its international isolationism. This includes juntas in Sudan, Mali, Libya, and the Central African Republic in which the Wagner Group has been linked to massacres in each nation.

Arguably the most shocking support for the junta comes from Western arms industries, which have subverted embargoes and sanctions to continue profiting off the Tatmadaw despite thousands of civilians being killed by it. Recently, there have been growing concerns regarding the black market arms industry with Western companies having components in the Iranian Shahed drones in Ukraine and some companies still have links to the Russian military.

Sending Foreign aid could Backfire

Myanmar has historically had to deal with various rebel organizations, many of which have different motives — some of which have been linked to militant organizations. With no clear anti-junta leadership in the nation, there are fears that potential weapons shipments could come into the wrong hands, continuing the bloodshed.

The nation borders with Thailand, a major partner in the Pacific to counter China and India, a nation the West has worked hard to court away from Russia. Foreign aid to rebel groups could be problematic and can result in blowback against not just the West, but our partners in the Pacific, which could damage international relations for years, giving Beijing and Moscow a chance to fill in the void. For this, foreign weapons and potential intervention for now has been ruled out.

Will it last?

Despite the junta’s hardline authoritarianism, it does not have full control over Myanmar. Rebel groups, through the two years of fighting have taken some swaths of the country. The fighting has seen indiscriminate bombing campaigns by the Tatmadaw in an attempt to quell the insurgency.

The insurgency has brought various rebel groups, ideologically different, together for a single cause — to finally end the military’s undisputed and unchecked rule over Myanmar. Though the fight will be hard and most likely last years, time is on the rebel’s side. Where the junta relies on a heavily weakened Russian Federation and China which is going through an economic and demographic decline, eventually their main backers would no longer be able to prioritize their solidified rule over the country.

Though much of the world’s attention has been fixated on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Burmese are currently resisting a brutal power that only cares about itself. The repressions by the junta are a lesson learned from giving a military unchecked power over civilian laws, as eventually an ambitious general from time to time will make his move.

[Photo by, via Wikimedia Commons]

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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