Prime Minister Hasina’s visit to Russia: Building a stronger bilateral architecture

by Barrister Harun ur Rashid | January 17, 2013 3:27 pm

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit from 14 to 16th January to Russia is important by any measure. Her first visit to Russia took place in November 2010 in connection with the First Tiger Summit which was held at St. Petersburg. There she met with the then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

On the sidelines of the summit, Bangladesh Prime Minister reportedly discussed energy, agriculture and military cooperation with the Russian Prime Minister. Putin was elected as the President for the third time in May 2012
Bangladesh’s relations with the former Soviet Union (presently Russian Federation) was excellent because during the difficult days, the leaders of the former Soviet Union supported the cause of the Liberation War of Bangladesh people in 1971 . People of Bangladesh will always remember with gratitude the supportive role played by the Soviet Union at the time, particularly at the UN Security Council.

After liberation, the Soviet Naval team of 200 personnel under Russian Admiral Zuenko cleared the mines of the Chittagong port quickly and efficiently making it operational in 1972 when the Indian Navy could not do the job because of heavy mines planted by Pakistan under waters. On 27th March, 2012 late Admiral Zuenko was awarded a medal by the government in recognition to his contribution to Bangladesh during the hard days.

Soon after independence of Bangladesh, in March, 1972, Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib visited Moscow which was his first formal overseas trip to express deep appreciation for the role the Soviet Union played in 1971. During the visit Sheikh Mujib delivered a speech to the students of the Moscow State University. At the time one squadron of MiGs was offered by the Soviet Union to Bangladesh. Bangladesh sent its Ambassador first to Moscow.

All these events demonstrated Bangladesh’s close and friendly relations with Moscow at the very beginning.

After the tragic assassination of Sheikh Mujib in August 1975, there was a period of low key relations with Moscow and by 1991 the Soviet Union disappeared and the Russian Federation came in its place.

Under the changed situation, both Bangladesh and Russia have renewed their engagement to strengthen their partnership in various sectors.

During 2010-11, it is reported Bangladesh’s exports to Russia were $90.7 million. And imports from Russia stood at $150.3 million. The goods include jute yarn, and twine, woven garments, knitwear, raw jute, shrimps, tea in bulk, leather, ceramic tableware and other manufactured goods. Although there is potential for increased trade, business enterprises of both countries need to come forward to know each other’s market and products.

Russia came in a big way to assist Bangladesh in the energy sector and it is reported that 30% of Bangladesh’s power grid is built by Russia. In April, 2012, three subsidiary companies of the state-owned Petrobangla signed a $193.5-million agreement with Russia’s Gazprom Company for drilling 10 gas wells in Bangladesh.

Under the deal, Gazprom will construct the drilling pad and warehouse, rig shifting and commissioning, procure drilling materials and engage with third party service providers, among other things. Addressing the singing ceremony, Finance Minister AMA Muhith said it would have taken $30 to $32 million to drill each of the wells, but the cost came down below $20 million each for signing the deal with Gazprom.

Russia offered its assistance to help build Bangladesh’s nuclear reactor. As per MOU, the two countries, acknowledged that the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and assurance of nuclear and radiation-safety are important in ensuring social and economic development of Bangladesh.

On 24 February 2011 Bangladesh’s Secretary of the Ministry of Science and Deputy Director General of Russian Atomic Energy Corporation signed a primary deal with Russia for installing a 2,000 MW third-generation nuclear power plant (reactors) at Rooppur (Pabna).

During the visit of the Prime Minister, Bangladesh is expected to seek duty-free access for its key export items to Russia and since Russia has a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, Bangladeshi goods may also find markets in the other two countries.

It is reported that two agreements would be signed—one on credit deals with Moscow on Rooppur nuclear power plant and another on gas exploration in Bangladesh. It is also expected to sign an agreement on education and cultural cooperation. Further a defence purchase agreement would also be signed.

During the visit, Bangladesh may request Russia among others, to assist the country in the following ways:
• To invest in Bangladesh’s priority sectors of development, especially in infrastructure projects
• To establish Bangladesh-Russian Business Forum for opportunities in setting up joint ventures in private sectors
• To build partnership in tying up with Russian industry in various fields including establishing outlets in Bangladesh for manufacturing parts of Russian industries.
• To transfer technology and funds to exploit Bangladesh renewable energies, such as solar, tidal waves and winds.

On international affairs, Bangladesh supported Russia as an observer to the Jeddah-based OIC and Russia appreciates Bangladesh’s non-recognition of Kosovo, a breakaway province of Serbia.

Russian territory extends from Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean and claims to be both a European and Asia-Pacific power. Russia wants to engage actively with Asia and the Pacific countries.

Against this background, the visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister will be a milestone in bilateral architecture in diverse fields with Russia. Furthermore, both countries may cooperate in addressing regional and global challenges confronting them with pragmatism and imagination. It is clear that both countries can and should do more together.


As regards on international issues, the coincidence of the approaches of both countries to many major global issues has created a framework for bilateral cooperation within the UN and other international agencies. Bangladesh has supported Russia’s application as an observer to the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) consisting of 57 Muslim majority countries. Russia also appreciated Bangladesh’s non-recognition of Kosovo which declared independence from Serbia.

The relations between Bangladesh and Russia are friendly, cooperative and embraces new horizons of mutual interests. Both sides are keen to further strengthen and broaden bilateral relations and the visit of the Bangladesh Prime Minister will contribute to crafting stronger cooperative relations between the two countries. .

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid
Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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