In 2022, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Abdulkalam Abdul Momen, invited Sergei Lavrov to visit the country. But even then, few believed that this would happen: in the busy schedule of the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, it is not easy to find a free window. On Thursday, however, Lavrov became the first Russian foreign minister to visit Bangladesh. And I was able to see for myself that the above figures are not an exaggeration.
It is difficult to understand how the car with the Russian minister miraculously covered the distance from the airport to the Intercontinental Hotel, where Lavrov was waiting for his Bangladeshi counterpart. But the truth is that the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry was on time for the talks. Some all-powerful magician has frozen an endless stream of cars, rickshaws, pedestrians, double-decker and single-decker buses that, as it appears from the outside, move in a completely chaotic way through Dhaka, flowing into intersections along incalculable trajectories.
But in a caravan with Russian journalists, this magician decided to take a break. To the place of the ministerial talks we were accompanied by an open jeep with soldiers and armed policemen, who were entrusted with taking the press to the Intercontinental. The policemen dangled from the jeep and brandished red and white wands, seemingly reminiscent of glowing swords from Star Wars. This temporarily helped to scare off the local press bus drivers who were trying to break into the column, but it did not speed up our advance very much.
Apparently realizing the futility of trying to ease the traffic jams on the streets of Dhaka, halfway down the road the policemen got a little tired and watched philosophically at the familiar Brownian movement of cars and people. However, when our colleagues from the TV channels, realizing that we were still standing still, decided to go out to record an interview in the middle of the road and at the same time take pictures of the bored drivers, our companions instantly cheered up. above. They hastily jumped out of the jeep and, brandishing their weapons, quickly cordoned off the perimeter of the filming location to ensure that everything went without incident. But the local population, learning that we were from Russia, reacted favorably, and one of the drivers even said in English that Lavrov was good. Apparently, he turned out to be the most politically savvy.
It would be wrong to say that Lavrov’s visit to Dhaka was a random event. On the contrary, the local media called it historic, and a long line of TV cameras and the Bangladeshi press packed into a large room for a press conference confirmed that there is great interest in the Foreign Minister’s speech. Russian. It is difficult to say what sensations were expected from Lavrov. But, apparently, they were still waiting, because, as it seemed to me, by the end of the press conference, the local journalists were a little discouraged.
The Russian minister was restrained, diplomatic, precise in his words and at the same time manifestly “anti-sensationalist”. In his speech, he stressed that “for half a century, relations between Russia and Bangladesh have been based on the principles of friendship, equality and mutual respect.” I have noted with satisfaction that, despite the objective difficulties, the Russian-Bangladeshi political dialogue is at a very good level. He said that he had discussed trade and investment relations with his Bangladeshi counterpart, reminding that Bangladesh remains Russia’s second largest trading partner in South Asia, after India.
Russian construction of the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh is progressing on schedule with the first nuclear fuel expected to be delivered and loaded in October. Relations in the field of gas are developing. According to Lavrov, Moscow could participate in the implementation of the Bangladeshi project to create a system for remote sensing of the Earth.
The enumeration of the areas in which Russia and Bangladesh cooperate turned out to be detailed, but it omitted the acute problems of bilateral relations. If this was discussed in the talks, then it will be behind closed doors, without publicity. Although there are such difficult problems and experts talk about them.
The current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, adheres to a fundamental foreign policy principle formulated by the country’s first Prime Minister and first President, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. She sounds something like this: “Friendship with everyone, enmity with no one.” Lavrov’s program for Friday includes a visit to the Sheikh’s house-museum. According to experts, this diplomatic trick allows Bangladesh to strike a balance between the strongest countries in the region and the world powers. But such a course also carries serious risks in a situation where the old world order is in a state of turbulence and the new one has not yet been formed. As a result, the Dhaka official sees his national interest in sitting on several “chairs” at once and at the same time not ruining relations with anyone.
Unlike Indonesia, which says of its policy that it is “not neutral, but independent”, Bangladesh focuses on neutrality. With regard to Moscow, it is a matter of friendly neutrality, but paradoxical as it may seem, exactly the same friendly neutrality underlies Bangladesh’s relations with the United States, India, China and Europe.
We must give the Bangladeshi authorities their due: despite the fact that Russia’s share in Bangladesh’s exports is only 2 percent, and the same indicator with the United States – 15 percent, with European countries – more than 55 percent, yet official Dhaka still manages to say “no” to all Western persuasion to join sanctions against Moscow. Of course, all kinds of excesses happen, because possible secondary sanctions from Washington would put Bangladesh in an extremely difficult and essentially hopeless financial situation. And the United States and Europe are threatening similar sanctions if Bangladesh refuses to impose restrictive measures against Russian companies. It should be added that Bangladesh became the third country in South Asia, after Sri Lanka and Pakistan, to request assistance from the International Monetary Fund. So, generally speaking, on one side of the foreign policy balance of Bangladesh, there is a real threat of secondary economic sanctions from its main trading partner, the West, and on the other, gratitude from the USSR for its help. in liberation. The Bangladesh struggle in 1971, without which the country simply would not have happened.
Dhaka hopes that Russia understands the difficulties faced by the Bangladeshi leadership. And it will show restraint towards its historically friendly state.
Judging by the tone of Sergei Lavrov’s speech at the press conference, such an agreement exists. For its part, Bangladesh has learned not to put all its eggs in one basket and is also interested in finding new footing. The country officially applied to join the BRICS after a meeting between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the President of South Africa. And he is counting on the support of the BRICS New Development Bank to eventually throw off the tutelage of the Western-controlled World Bank.