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Bangladesh-Russia rapport: new trends en route?

20 Apr 2017, 15:38 | updated: 20 Apr 2017, 15:58

Sayed Ahmed
A file photo of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Courtesy: Russian government website

To mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Russia, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has invited Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to visit Bangladesh. AH Mahmood Ali, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, delivered Hasina’s personal letter to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Thursday. Sheikh Hasina wrote that Medvedev’s visit to Dhaka would take bilateral ties between Bangladesh and Russia to the next level. Several sources foresee that the countries are outlining about 25 deals and memorandums of understanding; half of them are in the final stage, which are expected to be signed during Medvedev’s Dhaka visit sometime in the second half of this year. 

Bilateral trade between Bangladesh and Russia has soared since Hasina’s 2013 Russia visit. In 2015-16, the two-way bilateral trade volume surpassed $1.5 billion, according to Lavrov, whereas it was about $300 million prior to Hasina’s 2013 visit.

The Soviet Union duly supported the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971 and continued their support in the post-war reconstruction of the new nation. After the war, the Soviet Navy sent a floating workshop to Bangladesh for clearing Pakistani mines from the Chittagong and Chalna harbours. They also provided huge donation to newly established Bangladesh Air Force. In March 1972, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s visit to Moscow boosted the bilateral relations. The relationship between Bangladesh and the then Soviet Union started waning after the 1975 coup in Bangladesh that killed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members.

Bangladesh President Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (L), and Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin (R), after signing the joint declaration at the Moscow Kremlin during Mujibur Rahman's visit to the USSR. Source: Eduard Pesov/ RIA Novost

The governments that followed that of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman allied more with the Capitalist block led by the USA and also the Middle Eastern countries. So, Bangladesh-Soviet Union tie took a differ route as Bangladesh condemned Soviet for supporting Vietnamese military intervention in Cambodia, and the 1979 Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan along with other Western and Islamic nations. Bangladesh-Soviet Union relations also sunk after the expulsion of nine Soviet diplomats from Dhaka in December 1983 and January 1984 by the then President Hussain Muhammad Ershad. Despite such pungent events at home as well as in  the world politics, the Soviet Union continued its support for Bangladesh and the country was ranked 14th  among aid donors to Bangladesh in 1989. The Soviets focused on the development of electrical power, natural gas and oil, and maintained active cultural relations with Bangladesh. They sponsored the Ghorasal thermal power station, the largest of its type in Bangladesh.  



Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) and Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina look jovial at a signing ceremony in Moscow's Kremlin on January 15, 2013. Photo: Reuters

In her 2013 visit to Russia, Bangladesh’s prime minister Sheikh Hasina signed a $1 billion arms contract, the biggest for Bangladesh since its independence in 1971, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. ‘Our countries intend to expand their military and technological cooperation,’ Putin said at a Kremlin ceremony. ‘Russia will extend Bangladesh a credit of $1 billion, which will be spent on the purchase on Russian weapons and military technology,’ the Russian leader added. The arms purchase agreement included orders for armored vehicles and infantry weapons, air defence systems and Mi-17 transport helicopters, a source close to Russia’s state arms export agency told the Vedomosti business daily. Earlier, Bangladesh obtained tanks those from China. Bangladesh also purchased eight advanced Mig-29 fighter jets because of their $500 million price tag. Russia assigned $500 million to finance the construction of Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant in Ruppur. Russia’s state-owned Gazprom has been given the contracts for drilling 10 wells in existing gas fields of Bangladesh. The nations also maintain healthy trade relations. The current bilateral trade reaches $700 million and Dhaka expects to boost that by seeking duty-free access to the Russian Federation market.

In the bizarre world situation, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is doing justice to the philosophy of the foreign policy of Bangladesh: ‘Friendship to all and malice towards none’ by connecting to the east and the west as well as by embracing capitalist and socialist countries. Her visits to the USA, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Bhutan and many other countries of various and sometimes opposite cultures and values have strengthened international ties of the countries in connectivity, progress and security. We hope that Sheikh Hasina, following her father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, will extend our mutual relation with Russia by retaining our own social, political and cultural harmony. 

(The author is a freelancer. He can be reached at green23feb@gmail.com)

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