WASHINGTON – The Biden administration concluded Tuesday that the military seizure of power in Myanmar and detainment of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi constituted a military coup d’etat, triggering a review of U.S. assistance to the country, according to State Department officials.

The legal determination represents the strongest move President Joe Biden has taken since the military rolled through Myanmar’s capital on Monday, rounding up elected leaders of the National League for Democracy and cutting off phone lines and the Internet.

“We have denounced in the strongest possible terms Burma’s military leaders for seeking to reject the will of the people,” said a senior State Department official on a call with reporters, using another name for the country. “This assessment triggers certain restrictions on foreign assistance to the government of Burma, as it should, and in addition we will undertake a broader review of our assistance programs to ensure that they align with recent events.”

The coup unseated a fragile civilian government following elections in November and posed a challenge for Biden, who has pledged to return the United States to a leadership role in condemning anti-democratic actions worldwide.


Myanmar’s military stand guard at a checkpoint manned with an armored vehicle in a road leading to the parliament building Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. A day after Myanmar’s military staged a coup, Aung San Suu Kyi finds herself back under house arrest. But this time, her standoff with the generals comes after she has sorely disappointed many once-staunch supporters in the international community. AP Photo

On Monday, the president issued a statement saying the reversal of democratic gains in Myanmar, a major foreign policy project of the Obama administration, would “necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities.”

“In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” he said.


Biden warned that the United States was “taking note” of who was standing up for the people of Myanmar as democratic nations around the world denounced the military seizure. Chinese state media have deployed euphemisms for the putsch, calling it a “major cabinet reshuffle.”

U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive policy issue, said the determination would not impact humanitarian assistance, such as the millions of dollars that goes to assisting the country’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims. The officials did not provide a dollar figure for how much U.S. assistance is at stake.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that he had spoken to Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the coup and expressed support for sanctions.

McConnell credited the new administration for its bipartisan effort and outreach to Congress after the conversations Monday.

“This is a military coup and an attack on democracy, plain and simple,” McConnell, a longtime champion of democracy in Myanmar, said in remarks on the Senate floor. “There are two paths before Burma. It can continue to grow into a modern democratic country, connected to the global economy, or remain a corrupt, impoverished authoritarian backwater in the shadow of the People’s Republic of China.”

Monday’s seizure was the culmination of weeks of political tensions as the military and its proxy political party had been alleging widespread fraud in the November vote, which saw a landslide election victory for Suu Kyi’s party. The international community and Myanmar’s election commission have dismissed the military’s fraud claims as baseless.


The military has declared a state of emergency for a year and said it would hold fresh elections after that.

On Tuesday, Suu Kyi was still under house arrest in Naypyidaw. Suu Kyi’s ministers, also detained in the military takeover, were slowly being released, replaced by former generals and army loyalists.

– – –

The Washington Post’s Shibani Mahtani contributed to this report.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.