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Significance of Russian Foreign Minister's upcoming visit to Bangladesh

By Tilottama Rani Charulata* 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov may visit Bangladesh in 23-24 November. During his planned official visit, Bangladesh may explore the possibility of cooperation with Russia in the energy sector.
Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Masud Bin Momen has indicated that. He said that the Minister of Foreign Affairs. These issues can be discussed in the bilateral meeting with AK Abdul Momen. Apart from this, there will also be a discussion on the speedy implementation of projects in the pipeline including food grain supply and Rooppur nuclear power plant, said Foreign Secretary Masood Bin Momen.
"We have invited him and he is likely to come here," Bangladesh's foreign secretary told reporters at the end of a seminar at the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) on Sunday (13 November). We welcome him and this visit will provide an opportunity to discuss our challenges and priorities with Russia." Foreign Secretary Masud also said, "Bangladesh wants Russia to stand by Bangladesh in solving the Rohingya crisis."
An invitation has been received for Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to attend the IORA meeting and the possibility of this visit is being worked on," said an official at the Russian embassy in Dhaka. Earlier, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Momen invited his Russian counterpart to attend the 22nd IORA Council of Ministers (COM) meeting in Dhaka.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is likely to discuss bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest at the November 23 IORA meeting, apart from his main focus. Russia is a partner in the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) dialogue. Bangladesh, the current chairman of IORA, expects more than a dozen ministers, including the Russian foreign minister, to attend the meeting. Apart from the bilateral meeting with Bangladesh Foreign Minister, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is likely to meet Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
This will be Lavrov's first visit to Dhaka. Bangladesh has a historical relationship with the country. Because, in 1971, Russia vetoed Bangladesh in the United Nations Security Council. Besides, Russia is important for Bangladesh for many other reasons. These include nuclear power plant cooperation, import of other commodities including wheat and fertiliser, and potentially important partners in resolving the Rohingya issue.
The visit of the Russian Foreign Minister is significant for geo-political and geo-economic reasons. On the other hand, Bangladesh will be able to present its demands more strongly with Russia during this visit.
His visit comes at a time when Bangladesh, along with the rest of the world, is grappling with a global economic crisis due to the Russia-Ukraine war and the West’s sanctions on Russia, a major supplier of grains and fertiliser.
Bangladesh has also partnered with Russia for other purposes, including the South Asian country’s first nuclear power plant. Bangladesh needs Russian assistance in ensuring its energy, food and fertilizer security as Bangladesh deals with the global crisis. Because, country like Bangladesh will have to survive by ensuring those securities.
Russia and Bangladesh may continue joint work on the projects aimed at developing Bangladesh's national nuclear power sector and enhancing the potential of Bangladesh gas industry.
In this regard, the high level of cooperation between the Bangladeshi side and State Atomic Energy Corporation “Rosatom” as well as “Gazprom EP International B.V.” may be highlighted. Bangladesh and Russia may discuss in a bid to procure Russian oil and gas.
Russia is working on many projects including Bangladesh's first nuclear power plant. According to the data of the Export Development Bureau, in the fiscal year 2020-2021, Bangladesh exported goods worth 665.3 million US dollars to Russia. 85 percent of which is ready-made clothing. During this period, 466.7 million dollars' worth of goods were imported from Russia.
There (in Russia) Swift has stopped, shipping with Russia has also decreased. As a result, trade with Russia has become difficult at the moment. Bangladesh's main export product in Russia is manufactured garments, about 85 percent. In those cases, payments are blocked, new orders are stopped. We can see a negative effect here.' An alternative way to solve this problem is necessary for now.
This visit is important in geo-political and geo-economic context. Russian FM will definitely want more active support of Bangladesh in this regard. Different parties involved in the war in Europe, like other countries, Russia has also sought the support of Bangladesh and this is normal. Bangladesh will take the decision considering its national interest and has always tried to maintain a balanced position because Bangladesh needs both the West and Russia.
Bangladesh wants to import food and fuel from Russia amid ongoing crisis around the world. Russia-Ukraine war has increased the price of fuel oil in the world market. In such a situation, some countries including India, China are buying fuel oil from Russia at a low price. Last May, Russia also offered to buy crude oil from Bangladesh.

Expectations of Bangladesh

Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina has been renewing her call to end the war at the earliest. While delivering her speech at the 77th session of the UNGA on September 23, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina demanded an immediate end to the Ukraine-Russia war and resulting sanctions for the sake of the lives and livelihoods of the people across the world.
In 2017, about 0.8 million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar to save their lives. Currently, the presence of more than 1 million Rohingyas poses a risk to Bangladesh. Although many countries have given political support to solve the Rohingya problem, Russia is giving cooperation to Myanmar considering its own interests, which is very painful for Bangladesh. Russia has not changed its position despite repeatedly saying this.
Russia is selling modern weapons including fighter planes to Myanmar. On the other hand, the country is a big obstacle in discussing this issue in the Security Council. As a result, Russia is supporting Myanmar instead of playing any role in solving the Rohingya problem. Bangladesh needs to strongly raise this issue during (Lavrov's) visit.
Rooppur nuclear power project is one of the biggest projects of Bangladesh and he felt that there is a need to discuss with Russia about what needs to be done in the changed situation for its smooth implementation. In addition, the possibilities with Russia in the field of energy cooperation should be carefully examined. Russia has influence on Myanmar and they can play an important role in solving the Rohingya problem. Russia can encourage Myanmar to take back the Rohingyas and Bangladesh can request pressure for this. As a result, Russia's image can improve in the current context.
Abdul Momen met his Russian counterpart on the sidelines of the CICA summit in Astana, Kazakhstan last month and briefed him on the current situation of the Rohingyas. He emphasized the need for stronger international support to resolve the Rohingya crisis.
Before the 24th meeting of the Senior Officials Committee (SOC), Bangladesh will host the IORA Council of Ministers meeting on November 22-23.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) is an intergovernmental organization that aims to strengthen regional cooperation and sustainable development within the Indian Ocean region through its 23 member states and 10 dialogue partners.
The process of importing wheat from Russia at the official level has been already started. In order to deal with the instability and crisis of the market price, an initiative has been taken recently to import 500,000 tons of wheat from Russia during the war. Meanwhile, as per the agreement, 42 thousand tons of wheat has been released at Mongla port. The imported wheat for 19 coastal districts of the country is being stored in Mongla silos. If this consignment of wheat arrives gradually, the volatility of the market will decrease.
Tilottama Rani Charulata

According to the relevant sources, the country has an annual demand of about 75 lakh tonnes of wheat. 6.5 million tons of this wheat has to be imported from India, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia. In 11 months of this year (January-November), 84 thousand tons of wheat were imported through Mongla port by 4 foreign ships. Another 500,000 tons of wheat will be imported from Russia.
Due to the war, funding from Russia for Rooppur nuclear power plant has decreased. Again, sending money from Bangladesh to Russia for the import of equipment for this project is also stopped. In this situation, the two countries are working to normalize money exchange through third countries.
It is known that this problem has arisen due to the Western sanctions in the financial transactions of Russia after the start of the war and the expulsion of Russian banks from the international transaction system SWIFT.
Bangladesh and Russia may discuss Rohingya issue, Rooppur nuclear power project and other ongoing projects, energy cooperation and other issues. As a result of sanctions and counter-sanctions, the ongoing projects that we have, should be discussed so that there is no problem.
---
*Independent researcher, interested in the Bangladesh and Rohingya refugee affairs, currently in Canada

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