Bangladesh is currently experiencing heightened pressure exerted by America and the European Union as they endeavour to exert influence over its political processes through diverse means. These nations assert worry regarding the calibre of the forthcoming election; however, they encounter challenges in guaranteeing democratic principles and impartiality within their own electoral processes. Bangladesh should refrain from succumbing to external pressures and prioritise its internal progress and stability.
Russia has voiced its rejection of America and European Union’s interference in the internal political affairs of Bangladesh. On 7 July 2023, Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, conveyed her opinion that the manner in which America and the European Union are intervening in Bangladesh bears a resemblance to neo-colonialism, wherein dominant nations exercise overt interference in the internal affairs of a supposedly “sovereign” state. Neocolonialism refers to the phenomenon wherein certain nations exercise indirect dominion or exert influence over others through economic, political, or cultural mechanisms. Neocolonialism can be perceived as a perpetuation of colonialism, albeit in a distinct manifestation, frequently advantageous to the previous colonial powers and multinational corporations.
Maria Zakharova also said, “I have never heard that Bangladesh is a member of the European Parliament before. I haven’t heard that because it isn’t. I didn’t know that elections in Bangladesh were connected with the US state department.’
“By the logic of the West, it is the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the US Secretary of State who should issue some kind of recommendation on the need to form a neutral transitional government there for the pre-election period. What is this but neocolonialism? What is this but a manifestation of the nature of metropolises and their attitude towards their colonies?” she asked.
Russia and Global South
Russia has developed a solid framework to enhance amicable and mutually advantageous relationships with several nations in the Global South. The foundation for this groundwork was established during the period of the Soviet Union, wherein Moscow provided substantial material, financial, and military support to anti-colonial movements. The Soviet Union provided substantial assistance to various countries in Asia and Africa as well. Consequently, in the present day, the populations of these nations continue to maintain positive recollections of Russia. Furthermore, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has called upon nations belonging to the “Global South” to adopt a more proactive role in the global stage, actively challenging Western policies and upholding the principles outlined in the UN Charter. This includes advocating for the principles of independence, sovereignty, and equality among states. By doing so, Russia aims to position itself as a prominent advocate for the interests of developing nations.
Bangladesh- A case study of Russia-Global South relationship
Bangladesh attained its sovereignty as a distinct nation in 1971, subsequent to a protracted and violent struggle for independence. The historical narrative of Bangladesh is intricately connected with the histories of India and the former Soviet Union, which exerted significant influence in its formation.
India demonstrated a compassionate stance towards the cause of Bangladesh, extending moral, diplomatic, and military assistance to the Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters). India experienced a significant influx of refugees from East Pakistan, resulting in considerable strain on its resources and security infrastructure. Furthermore, India exhibited caution regarding the participation of China and America in the conflict, as both nations aligned themselves with West Pakistan due to strategic considerations. China provided military weaponry and munitions to West Pakistan, whereas America deployed a naval task force to the Bay of Bengal with the intention of dissuading India from intervening.
Nevertheless, India made the strategic choice to intervene significantly in December 1971 subsequent to establishing a treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union provided India with diplomatic and military support in the event of potential conflicts involving China or America. On December 3, 1971, India initiated a comprehensive military campaign against West Pakistan, effectively overpowering its defensive forces in East Pakistan. On December 16, 1971, the capital of East Pakistan, Dhaka, was encircled by the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini, resulting in the compelled surrender of the West Pakistani army. This event signified the conclusion of the conflict and the establishment of Bangladesh as an independent and autonomous state. Bangladesh emerged as a result of collaborative efforts between India and the Soviet Union, which played instrumental roles in facilitating its liberation from West Pakistan.
Bangladesh and Russia relation
Bangladesh has emerged as a rapidly expanding economy within the South Asian region. The nation has been garnering foreign investments from diverse origins, including Russia. The increase in Russian investments in Bangladesh can be attributed to a significant factor, namely the shared objective of both nations to advance the energy sector, particularly in the domain of nuclear power. Bangladesh is currently grappling with a persistent electricity deficit, which significantly impedes its progress in both industrial and social spheres. Russia has been extending technical and financial aid to Bangladesh in the construction of its inaugural nuclear power facility, Rooppur, with the anticipation of its imminent operationalization. With a valuation surpassing USD 10 billion, this project stands as the most substantial Russian investment in Bangladesh to date. India, being a proximate neighbour and collaborator of Bangladesh, has additionally extended its support to the initiative through the provision of training, consultation, and equipment.
The increasing influx of Russian investments in Bangladesh can be attributed to the convergence of strategic interests between the two nations within the region. Bangladesh is an active participant in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), a regional organisation comprising seven member states. The primary objective of BIMSTEC is to foster regional cooperation and promote connectivity among its member countries. Russia currently holds the status of an observer within the BIMSTEC and has conveyed its inclination to attain full membership within the organisation. India, being the preeminent and most consequential constituent of BIMSTEC, has been actively engaged in fostering discourse between Russia and other member nations of BIMSTEC on a range of matters encompassing trade, security, and counterterrorism. Bangladesh has actively sought to promote Russian investments in various sectors of its economy, including agriculture, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and information technology (IT).
The two nations have cultivated a congenial and amicable rapport founded upon reciprocal regard and confidence. The future outlook for Russian investments in Bangladesh appears promising, given the mutual interest of both nations in expanding their economic relations and pursuing novel avenues for cooperation.
Russian challenges, fears and worries
Russia, in its self-perception as a friend and ally of Bangladesh, has consistently conveyed concerns regarding the impact of Western nations and institutions on the developmental trajectory and sovereignty of Bangladesh. Russia asserts that the Western nations, primarily led by America, have been subjecting Bangladesh to comprehensive Western neo-colonialism. This implies that the previous colonial powers continue to exploit and exert dominance over the country through economic, political, and cultural mechanisms. Let us examine the concerns held by Russia on Bangladesh.
Reliance on foreign aid and loans
Due to its significant reliance on foreign aid and loans from Western countries and organisations, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and America, Bangladesh frequently encounters conditions and demands accompanying these sources of funding. Consequently, the country’s policy options, and autonomy are often constrained.
Bangladesh holds membership in the Commonwealth of Nations. This intergovernmental organisation comprises former British colonies and maintains diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. Russia perceives this as an indication of ongoing loyalty to the previous ruling power and a deficiency in self-sufficiency and distinctiveness.
Existing ties with the west
The existence of strong ties between certain influential individuals in Bangladesh and America is perceived by Russia as posing challenges to its regional interests. America extends military and economic aid to Bangladesh, alongside offering diplomatic backing concerning matters pertaining to human rights and democracy. Russia may harbour concerns that America is strategically leveraging Bangladesh as a pawn in its geopolitical manoeuvres aimed at countering the influence of both China and Russia.
Trapped in western values
Bangladesh has embraced various elements of Western culture and values, including the principles of Western democracy, secularism, human rights, and free market. Russia could potentially interpret this as a diminishment of its cultural identity and a capitulation to Western dominance. Russia may also have concerns regarding the potential incompatibility between these values and the Islamic faith and traditions prevalent among the majority of Bangladeshis, which could potentially result in social unrest and radicalization.
Will Russia continue support Awami League government in coming general election?
The Bangladesh Awami League has held political power since 2009 and has fostered a significant diplomatic rapport with Russia. Russia also extended its support to the government led by the Awami League through a range of means, including financial assistance in the form of loans, provision of weaponry, collaboration in the nuclear energy sector, and diplomatic endorsement. Russia aims to enhance its access and collaboration with Bangladesh on diverse matters, including trade, energy, security, and counterterrorism, through its endorsement of the Awami League government.
Furthermore, the Bangladesh Awami League has consistently conveyed its gratitude and appreciation for the pivotal role played by the Soviet Union in the country’s liberation war. Additionally, the party has maintained a friendly and amicable relationship with Russia, as the successor state of the Soviet Union. Russia’s decision to extend support to the Awami League government in Bangladesh may be driven by its desire to enhance historical and cultural ties with the country, as well as to cultivate a sense of mutual trust and respect.
Written by Rajeev Ahmed
Geopolitcal Analyst, Strategic Thinker and the Editor at geopolits.com
Illustration: Google search images