The prospects of Bangladesh-Russia cooperation
On January 25, 2022, the People's Republic of Bangladesh and the Russian Federation celebrate a remarkable date: on this day 50 years ago, less than a year after the declaration of Bangladesh's independence, our countries established diplomatic relations.
The recognition of Bangladesh by the Soviet Union made direct bilateral political dialogue possible. In March 1972, the founder and the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, paid a visit to Moscow, where he met with Secretary General of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet Nikolai Podgorny, Chairman of the Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin, and other officials. During the trip, the intergovernmental agreements were concluded on economic and technical cooperation, on providing free assistance for restoring navigation in the seaports of Bangladesh, and on air services, trade, agreements on the USSR trade representation in Bangladesh, as well as on cultural and scientific cooperation. Some of the treaties signed then are still in force.
Upon the request of the Bangladesh government, in April 1972, the Special Expedition 12 of the Soviet Navy was sent to the Bay of Bengal. It was entrusted with the task of clearing the port of Chittagong from mines and sunken ships left there after the Liberation War ended in December 1971. In spite of the extraordinary technical complexity, it was accomplished, enabling the local authorities to promptly ensure the vital supplies of food and other necessary goods to the war-torn country. Unfortunately, it was not without the losses: on July 13, 1973, a senior sailor of the floating workshop PM-156 of the Kamchatka flotilla, Yury Redkin, was killed in the line of duty. He was buried in Chittagong with military honours in the territory of the Naval Academy.
It is gratifying that after half a century, the Bangladeshi friends continue to cherish the memory of the feat of the Soviet sailors. Such a delicate attitude towards our common history deserves respect.
In 1971-1975, the USSR provided Bangladesh with significant economic assistance. In particular, the Soviet specialists participated in the construction of Ghorashal TPP, which still remains one of the largest in the country.
On December 29, 1991, Bangladesh recognised the Russian Federation as the successor state of the USSR. A new impetus to the bilateral cooperation was given by the advent of the Awami League government in Dhaka in 2009, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who followed her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's policy for cooperation with Russia.
In 2010, on the sidelines of the International Tiger Conservation Forum, a meeting was held between Sheikh Hasina and Vladimir Putin, then the chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation. In 2013, the prime minister paid an official visit to Moscow. In 2016, she met Dmitry Medvedev, chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation, during the summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Ulaanbaatar. These contacts outlined key directions of our bilateral cooperation for years ahead.
The heads of our foreign ministries have conducted a number of meetings as well. The recent talks between Sergey Lavrov and Dr AK Abdul Momen, minister of foreign affairs of Bangladesh, were held in July 2021 in Tashkent, on the sidelines of the international conference "Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity, Challenges and Opportunities." The two ministries also have the mechanisms of bilateral consultations on international issues and counterterrorism.
The contacts have been established between our supreme legislative bodies. The participation of Dr Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in the 2nd International Forum of "Development of Parliamentarism" in June-July 2019 and the 3rd Eurasian Women's Forum in October 2021 are the most notable recent events in this area. Since November, a parliamentary friendship group on relations with the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation has been functioning in the parliament of Bangladesh.
Our countries share commitment to the fundamental principles of international cooperation set forth in the UN Charter. Proximity and often similarity of the approaches towards the topical issues of global and regional agenda ensure successful coordination of our efforts within the UN and other multilateral structures. For instance, Bangladesh and Russia are jointly opposing glorification of Nazism, placement of arms in outer space, and use of ICTs for criminal purposes.
The Rosatom State Corporation is significantly contributing to the development of the Bangladeshi energy sector. It is taking part in implementing the largest joint project—construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) in Pabna, which is financed through the state credit extended by Russia. Last October saw installation of the reactor pressure vessel of the plant's Unit 1. In general, two units with the total capacity of 2,400 megawatt are to be put into operation. The existing experience of cooperation in peaceful use of atomic energy may serve as a basis for further collaboration, if the Bangladeshi side decides to start construction of the second NPP.
The bilateral trade turnover is growing steadily. In 2020, despite the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, it reached USD 2.4 billion. Statistical data for the first half of 2021 gives hope that this mark can be exceeded. The supplies of wheat (in 2021, 400,000 tonnes) and fertilisers (180,000 tonnes), metals, machinery and equipment constitute the basis of our exports, while garments, knitwear and seafood are the major items of the Bangladeshi imports.
The Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, established in 2017, streamlined our economic ties.
Russian-made military hardware is in service with the Bangladesh Army and the Bangladesh Air Force. Our partners have procured the Yak-130 combat-training aircraft, the Mi-17 and the Mi-171 helicopters, the BTR-80 armoured personnel carriers, the MiG-29 fighter aircrafts and other special equipment.
More than 6,000 citizens of Bangladesh have graduated from Soviet and Russian universities. Now, they are employed in almost all spheres of their country's economic and social life, and hold senior positions in government agencies, private companies and cultural associations. Our bilateral cooperation in education is still valid today, especially due to the ongoing training of qualified personnel for exploitation of the Rooppur NPP. In 2021, Russia provided 70 scholarships under its government quota for Bangladeshi students.
The Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, also known as RUDN University, is a traditional partner of foreign educational organisations. In March 2021, RUDN University and the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at promoting cooperation in humanities and natural and social sciences. The negotiations between the Tyumen State University and the Institute of Modern Languages of Dhaka University on cooperation in teaching Russian as a foreign language through advanced educational methods have reached the final stage. It is worth mentioning that the Bangladeshi people are showing increasing interest towards learning Russian. For example, around 200 students annually attend the Russian language courses at the Russian House in Dhaka.
Bangladesh and Russia have similar positions on inter-faith dialogue and combating religious extremism, which is manifested in our cooperation under the auspices of the Group of Strategic Vision "Russia-Islamic world."
Cultural exchanges, more than anything else, promote affinity and better mutual understanding between our peoples. Unfortunately, over the last two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has hampered activities in this area. Nevertheless, this work is still underway. On November 4, 2021, the Embassy of Russia in Dhaka hosted a concert of the Moscow Cossack Choir timed to the National Unity Day, as well as the 50th anniversary of independence of Bangladesh and the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The People's Republic of Bangladesh is an important partner of Russia in South Asia. Our relations are strong and their potential is immense. All conditions are in place to harness it to the full.
Igor Morgulov is the deputy minister of foreign affairs of the Russian Federation.