Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commended Bangladesh for its steadfast commitment to an independent foreign policy. During his Dhaka visit on Thursday, September 07, 2023, he said that the foreign policy of Bangladesh aligns with its national interests, even in the face of pressures from the United States and Western nations.
Since the independence of Bangladesh, it is ever first visit of any foreign minister from the then USSR and Russia. Sergey Lavrov announced a significant commitment to elevate trade and investment relations with Bangladesh. He described Bangladesh as a steadfast and enduring partner in South Asia, emphasizing the intensification of bilateral interactions.
Lavrov has also paid a courtesy visit to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday morning (Today) at the Ganabhaban. It marks as a pivotal moment in the strengthening of diplomatic relations between Russia and Bangladesh. The visiting Russian foreign minister also paid tribute to Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman at Dhaonmondhi 32 and visited the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum at Dhanmondi before his departure for Delhi.
You can also read: From Moscow to Dhaka: An overview ahead of Russian Foreign Minister’s visit
At a press briefing following their bilateral meeting, Mr. Lavrov expressed Russia’s appreciation for Bangladesh’s principled stance. Lavrov stated, “We appreciate the fact that despite the pressure exerted upon Bangladesh by the United States and its allies, our Bangladeshi friends are unwaveringly guided by their national interests in their foreign policy.”
The Geopolitical Significance of the visit
His visit and the press briefing took place a couple of days later the US State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Mira Resnick attended the US – Bangladesh security dialogue in Dhaka. The dialogue covered various traditional and non-tradition security issues of mutual interests, including the Indo-Pacific outlook of Bangladesh and the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the USA. The discussed issues also included- upcoming national elections of Bangladesh, security assistance, defense trade and cooperation, checking terrorism and violent extremism and transnational crimes, and fostering broader and regional security, according to a release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh.
However, in this pivotal meeting, Russia also extended its proposal to provide additional arms. Being a significant supplier of military equipment to Bangladesh, the Foreign Minister of Russia also reaffirmed its commitment to bolstering the nation’s defense capabilities. Mr. Lavrov revealed, “In our discussions, both countries have concurred on the imperative to enhance and fortify our trade and investment ties. Notably, Bangladesh stands as Russia’s second-largest partner in South Asia, second only to India.”
Strategic partnership reflects in energy projects and trade
Bangladesh’s ambitious nuclear power project involves collaboration with Russia’s state-owned atomic company, Rosatom, in a substantial $12.65 billion initiative. A remarkable 90 percent of the financing comes from a Russian loan, repayable over 28 years, with an initial 10-year grace period.
The project faced unfortunate delays due to the exigencies of the COVID-19 pandemic and the imposition of sanctions related to the Ukraine conflict. In December of the preceding year, owing to U.S. sanctions against Moscow, Bangladesh had to deny entry to a Russian ship carrying vital equipment for the nuclear power plant.
The first unit of the plant, boasting a total generation capacity of 2,400 megawatts, was initially set to commence operation in July of the following year. However, it now faces setbacks linked to loan repayments.
Bangladesh has grappled with its most severe electricity crisis since 2013, a sobering reality illuminated by an analysis of government data. This predicament is attributed to erratic weather conditions, challenges in funding fuel imports amid dwindling forex reserves, and a depreciating currency.
Highlighting the substantial growth in trade, he disclosed, “In recent years, our bilateral trade turnover has consistently exceeded 2 billion US dollars, and in the year 2022, it soared to nearly 3 billion.” Furthermore, Mr. Lavrov provided an update on the progress of Russia’s flagship project, the Rooppur nuclear power plant. On this, Lavrov stated, “The construction of the Rooppur nuclear power plant is proceeding seamlessly according to the established timeline, and we anticipate the arrival of the first shipment of nuclear fuel in Bangladesh this October.”
Lavrov backs diplomatic resolution, critiques external interference
Mr. Lavrov affirmed Russia’s commitment to accelerating cooperation in the energy sector, emphasizing, “We have promising collaborative ventures in the gas industry, with Gazprom International leading the way by drilling over 20 wells in Bangladesh, ready to continue this partnership.” He also revealed ongoing discussions regarding the practical aspects of potential LNG supply to Bangladesh, along with talks on the prospective supply of wheat and fertilizers, underscoring the multifaceted nature of their burgeoning relationship.
In a climactic declaration, Mr. Lavrov assured that the bond between Russia and Bangladesh in matters of trade, energy, and strategic cooperation was poised for even greater heights. This bond exemplifies the enduring strength of both countries’ alliance.
During their bilateral meeting, the Russian Foreign Minister addressed the Rohingya crisis, acknowledging it as a “very high-profile issue” that featured prominently in their discussions. Russia expressed its support for ongoing negotiations between Bangladesh and Myanmar, underscoring the importance of diplomatic channels to resolve this complex humanitarian crisis.
In a pointed observation, Mr. Lavrov voiced concerns about external actors exploiting the Rohingya issue to exert pressure on one of the involved parties and interfere in their domestic affairs. He firmly stated, “I believe that this is both counterproductive and unacceptable,” emphasizing the need for a constructive and unbiased approach to the crisis.
Highlighting the depth of collaboration between Russia and Bangladesh on the global stage, Mr. Lavrov mentioned their cooperation within international forums such as the United Nations and the ASEAN Regional Forum. He reiterated the breadth of their discussions, encompassing a wide range of issues, and emphasized the identification of practical steps to strengthen their bilateral relations.
Reflecting on the enduring partnership between Russia and Bangladesh, Mr. Lavrov stated, “Bangladesh is our good and long-standing partner in South Asia. For over 50 years, we have been building our relations based on friendship and equality.” He also expressed satisfaction that despite challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, both nations have maintained their political dialogue, and they have now agreed to intensify bilateral contacts across all domains.
Lavrov’s arrival in Dhaka marked a significant diplomatic milestone, as he became the first Russian foreign minister to visit Bangladesh since its independence in 1971. His visit followed his participation in the East Asia summit in Jakarta.
Bangladesh’s stance on balanced foreign policy echoes
As both Russia and Western countries vie for Bangladesh’s support, a nation that has refrained from taking sides in the Ukraine conflict while grappling with escalating fuel and food import costs, France’s President Emmanuel Macron is poised to visit Dhaka in the coming week. His visit aims to deepen ties with a country experiencing rapid economic growth.
Before departing for the G20 leaders’ summit in New Delhi, Lavrov is scheduled to call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday. Dhaka has fervently requested Moscow to ensure the use of non-sanctioned vessels for transporting equipment for the nuclear plant, while simultaneously urging a peaceful resolution of conflicts through dialogue and discussion.
In the heart of these diplomatic maneuvers lies Bangladesh’s unwavering commitment to peaceful dialogue and resolution, as echoed by Foreign Minister Abdul Momen, who emphatically stated, “We don’t want war. We want all issues to get resolved through dialogue and discussion.”
Speaking at a joint media briefing following his meeting with Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, Lavrov disclosed that they had also discussed the Rohingya crisis. He expressed Russia’s support for the continuous negotiations between Bangladesh and Myanmar, underscoring the importance of finding lasting solutions to the issue.
Momen firmly reiterated Bangladesh’s commitment to peaceful conflict resolution, stating, “We don’t want war. We want all issues to get resolved through dialogue and discussion. We maintain a very balanced foreign policy, following our interests. Our objective is to resolve all issues through dialogue and discussion.”
Dr. Momen expressed deep gratitude for Russia’s role during Bangladesh’s war of liberation and its assistance in post-war rehabilitation. He highlighted Bangladesh’s request for peaceful conflict resolution from Russia and reiterated the nation’s steadfast commitment to a foreign policy of “friendship to all, malice to none.”
“We maintain a very balanced foreign policy. We prioritize our interests, and up to this point, we have consistently upheld an autonomous foreign policy. We aim to achieve resolutions for all matters through peaceful dialogue and constructive discussion. We don’t want war,” Dr. Momen emphasized.
The briefing included the presence of Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen, State Minister for Foreign Affairs M. Shahriar Alam, and Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen, highlighting the significance of the meeting and the collective commitment to advancing their diplomatic ties.
From cancellation to collaboration
Notably, Lavrov’s visit had been scheduled for November 23 of the previous year, primarily for the 22nd IORA Council of Ministers meeting in Dhaka. However, it was canceled at the last minute. Subsequently, Foreign Minister Momen and Sergey Lavrov held a telephone conversation, shedding light on the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and Russia. They expressed their mutual desire to further elevate these relations.
During the phone call, the Russian foreign minister expressed regret for the cancellation and expressed his intention to visit soon. Momen extended Bangladesh’s gratitude for Russia’s cooperation in constructing the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant and extended an invitation from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Russian President Putin to visit Bangladesh, emphasizing the growing warmth between the two nations.
Notably, on the day of Lavrov’s arrival in Bangladesh, 14 heads of Western diplomatic missions in Dhaka published an opinion piece in a local daily criticizing Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The article was titled “Russia’s War in Ukraine is reversing hard-won development gains and destroying global food security.”