Overview of Russia-Bangladesh Relations

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In 1971, the USSR supported the struggle of the people of Bangladesh for independence and was one of the first nations to recognize the new sovereign state.

Of particular importance was the Soviet Union’s position in the United Nations Organization during the discussions of the conflict between India and Pakistan (December 3-21, 1971). Our country vetoed the UN Security Council’s resolutions, sponsored by the United States and China, which artificially divided the issues of ceasefire in the Indian subcontinent and political resolution in East Pakistan, thus ignoring real reasons behind the military conflict.

Pakistan troops surrendered on December 16, 1971. On December 22, Bangladesh government returned to Dhaka and started reviving the country and working to secure international recognition of the newly born state.

On January 25, 1972, our countries exchanged notes on establishing diplomatic relations. Later, the USSR also assisted Bangladesh in joining the UN.

In 1972-74, the Soviet Union extended its helping hand to Bangladesh in reviving its economy, destroyed during the Liberation War. At that time, the first highest and high-level contacts took place between Russia and Bangladesh. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Foreign Minister Abdus Samad Azad visited the USSR where they signed intergovernmental agreements on economic and technical cooperation, trade and trade representation, cultural and scientific cooperation, on providing free assistance to Bangladesh for restoring navigation in its seaports, as well as on air services between our countries.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Leonid I. Brezhnev

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Mujibur Rahman met Leonid I. Brezhnev, Secretary General of the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party, along with USSR Defense Minister Marshall Andrei A. Grechko on March 2, 1972. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman approached the Soviet leadership with the request to assist in minesweeping of the Chittagong port and clearing it of sunk ships and vessels. On March 21, 1972 the Soviet delegation was already in Dhaka to work out the bilateral agreement on the minesweeping and clearing operation in the Bay of Bengal.

Grave of Yuri V. Redkin in Chittagong

The first Soviet minesweeper entered the port of Chittagong on April 26, 1972. The works on minesweeping and raising sunk ships were concluded in 26 months. During the operation, a senior sailor Yuri V. Redkin lost his life as a hero. His grave is situated on the premises of Bangladesh Military Navy Academy.

In the 1970s and later, the USSR helped Bangladesh in revitalizing and developing its economy. In particular, the power plants “Ghorasal” and “Siddhirganj”, electrical equipment factory in Chittagong and other objects were built with financial and technical assistance of our country.

On December 29, 1991, Russia was recognized by Bangladesh government as a successor to the USSR. At present, our bilateral cooperation is developing in many spheres. We are working on a number of joint economic projects. Political, cultural and educational cooperation between Russia and Bangladesh is on the rise. Moscow and Dhaka share common stance on the majority of international issues.

 

POLITICAL CONTACTS

Russia and Bangladesh maintain fruitful contacts on the highest and high levels. Meetings between the heads of foreign ministries of both countries, including in the framework of the UN General Assembly sessions and other international organizations and fora, are regular.

In November 2010, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina participated in the Tiger International Forum in St Petersburg and had a meeting with then Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

During the Moscow visit of Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni and State Minister for Science and Technology Yeafesh Osman in May 2010, the intergovernmental agreement on peaceful use of atomic energy was signed.

In April 2011 and in November 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni met in Moscow. On July 1, 2013, they held a working meeting in Bandar-Seri-Begawan (Brunei).

On January 14-16, 2013, Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit to Moscow on the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. This became the first visit at such a high level in the history of the bilateral relations between Russia and Bangladesh in the last 40 years. Vladimir Putin and Sheikh Hasina held extensive negotiations on numerous issues of bilateral and international agenda. Three intergovernmental agreements were signed covering credit cooperation and six memoranda of understanding in different spheres: i.e. nuclear energy, military hardware supplies, agriculture, education, health, culture, justice and counter-terrorism.

While in Moscow, Sheikh Hasina also met Valentina Matvienko, Chairperson of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly, Nikolay Nikiforov, Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications, and Sergey Kirienko, Director General of the Russian State Corporation “Rosatom”.

In June 2015, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov had a fruitful meeting with Bangladeshi State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam in Moscow.

On March 21, 2016, Igor Morgulov and Foreign Secretary of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Md. Shahidul Haque conducted a round of consultations on a wide range of issues. They reviewed the present state and prospects of the whole complex of relations between Russia and Bangladesh as well as topical foreign-policy issues. The sides reaffirmed mutual desire to promote political dialogue, strengthen cooperation in practical spheres, and increase coordination in the global arena for the benefit of maintaining regional security and stability.

On July, 15, 2016, the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev, and the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina met on the sidelines of the 11th ASEM (“Asia-Europe” Forum) summit in Mongolia.

H.E. Sheikh Hasina, the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and H.E. Dmitry Medvedev, the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, at the 11th ASEM summit.

 

The two Prime Ministers discussed bilateral relations, trade and economic cooperation, with particular attention to collaboration in atomic energy. They also agreed to strengthen the legal framework of cooperation between our countries.

  The Heads of the two Governments expressed their satisfaction with the progress of the “Rooppur” Nuclear Power Plant construction, which is the main bilateral project.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly session.

 

On September 22, 2016, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali on the sidelines of the 71st UN General Assembly session in New York. The ministers exchanged views on key issues of bilateral and global agenda. They also signed the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on Visa-Free Visit for Persons Holding Diplomatic and Service (Official) Passports (entered into force on February 12, 2017).

Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali paid a visit to Russia at the invitation of Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov on April 12-15, 2017. The visit marked the 45th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Russia and Bangladesh. The program included negotiations between the foreign ministers of the two countries, meetings of Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali with Minister of Telecom and Mass Communications of Russia Nikolay Nikiforov, Chairman of the Gazprom Management Committee Alexey Miller and Governor of Leningrad Oblast Alexander Drozdenko. On the sidelines of the visit, Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Information of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on the cooperation in the field of mass communications and Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation between the ITAR TASS News Agency (TASS) and Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) were signed.

The year 2016 saw further development of inter-parliamentary relations between Russia and Bangladesh. In May, Speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad and Chairperson of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) president Saber Hossain Chowdhury and Whip of Jatiya Sangsad Iqbalur Rahim visited St. Petersburg to participate in the 44th Plenary Session of the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) president Saber Hossain Chowdhury at the Federation Council meeting.

The Chairperson of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly Valentina Matvienko invited  Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury to take part in the Eurasian Women’s Forum-2018.

Speaker of Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad and Chairperson of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Shirin Sharmeen Chaudhury speaking at the inaugural session of 44th Plenary Session of the IPA CIS in Saint Petersburg

 

On September 17-24, 2016, Bangladesh Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha visited Russia on the invitation of his Russian counterpart Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Lebedev.

Inter-party ties between our countries are developing as well. In October 2016, on the invitation of the Bangladeshi side, the United Russia Party delegation visited Dhaka. Sergei Zheleznyak, Deputy Secretary of the General Council of the United Russia Party, headed the delegation at the 20th National Council of the Awami League, the leading political force of Bangladesh. During the visit, it was agreed to enhance inter-party contacts for the cause of strengthening friendship between Russia and Bangladesh.

Moscow and Dhaka are reliable, time-tested partners in promoting principles of multipolar global architecture and fair international economic and financial system. Holding close or similar positions on numerous international and regional issues, Russia and Bangladesh cooperate in the United Nations and other international platforms.

 

ECONOMIC AND TRADE RELATIONS

Russia-Bangladesh economic and trade relations are based on the intergovernmental Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation and Trade Agreement, dated 1972.

On March 1, 2017 the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on the Establishment of the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation was signed. The aim of the Commission is to develop broad-based cooperation between Russia and Bangladesh in various spheres. It will facilitate the diversification of bilateral trade, economic, scientific and technical ties between the business communities of the two countries and assist to remove barriers to mutual trade.

In 2016 the bilateral trade volume exceeded 1.4 billion USD. More than 90% of the Bangladeshi import to Russia consists of ready-made garments, seafood, and leather items. Russia exports metal-roll, raw materials for textile industry, machinery equipment, fertilizers, crops, including high quality milling wheat. It is important to note that our bilateral trade is generally balanced – the export from Russia is almost equal to the import from Bangladesh.

Bangladesh faces an energy deficit and is keen to develop energy cooperation with Russia. Hence, energy sector is a focal point of bilateral cooperation between our two countries.

Russia and Bangladesh have been cooperating in the energy sector since the 1970s. The power plants in Ghorasal and Siddhirganj constructed with the Soviet assistance still produce around 20% of total electricity in Bangladesh. Nowadays, such Russian energy giants as State Corporation “Rosatom” and “Gazprom EP International” are actively contributing to the realization of the “Universal Electrification-2021” plan of the Government of Bangladesh.

Utilizing smart and safe technologies, “Rosatom” is a proven leader of the international NPP construction market. While constructing the first nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, “Rooppur” Nuclear Power Plant in Pabna, it will help the country to attain energy security by developing its power sector. The project is also aimed at stabilizing electricity prices and reducing Bangladesh’s dependence on high cost power generation based on imported fuel.

The intergovernmental agreement on the construction of “Rooppur” NPP was signed in Dhaka in November 2011. On December 25, 2015, the General Contract for the main stage of the “Rooppur” NPP construction was signed. Russia provided an almost 12 billion USD credit to Bangladesh for the construction of “Rooppur” NPP. The Intergovernmental Agreement on the allocation of the Russian state loan for funding the main phase of the “Rooppur” NPP construction was signed in Moscow on July 26, 2016.

Inauguration of the 1st phase of Rooppur NPP project. October 2, 2013

The Joint Coordination Committee for the “Rooppur” NPP construction holds meetings on the annual basis under the chairmanship of State Corporation “Rosatom” Director General and Minister for Science and Technology of Bangladesh.

Special event "Children and Atom",
organized by “Rosatom”. March 28, 2016

“Rooppur” NPP will be equipped with two Russian VVER reactors, each with a minimum capacity of 1,200 MW. The VVER-1200 offered by “Rosatom” is a modern generation 3+ project which meets all post-Fukushima international safety standards and rules.

Apart from building the NPP, the Russian side is implementing a wide-range training program to train qualified personnel for the nuclear industry of Bangladesh. This year 20 Bengali students have been given Russian state scholarships to study at Moscow Engineering and Physics Institute (MEPhI). They get training in NPP management, have regular workshops on full-scale simulators and at real NPPs.

“Gazprom EP International” is the sole specialized enterprise for implementing Gazprom's projects in the areas of prospecting, exploration and development of hydrocarbons outside the Russian Federation. “Gazprom EP International” currently operates in nearly 20 countries on four continents and participates in almost 40 projects of different scales. The key projects are implemented in Algeria, Vietnam, Bolivia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh and on the North Sea shelf (British, Danish and Dutch sectors).

In November 2014, “Gazprom EP International” fulfilled its obligations under two contracts signed with Bangladesh Oil & Gas Corporation "Petrobangla” in April 2012. Altogether, ten gas wells were drilled.  Tests showed that maximum total production of the wells amounted to 5.1 million cubic meters of gas per day which is equal to 16.8% of Petrobangla’s production volume and 7.5% of the total production in the country.

In September 2015, “Gazprom EP International” signed two supplementary contracts with BAPEX, BGFCL and SGFL to design and build five new wells. One of the contracts has been fulfilled already.

Taking into account Bangladesh’s growing energy demand, “Gazprom EP International” is planning to increase cooperation in the field of gas extraction. The Russian company is set to open its representation office in Bangladesh soon.

 “Inter RAO-Engineering” has a proven record of rehabilitation of energy facilities. In September 2014, “Inter RAO-Engineering” signed a contract with Bangladesh Power Development Board for the major repair and modernization of the 5th block of “Ghorasal” Power Plant (210 MW). On October 1, 2016, the repair work at the project site began.

Ghorasal Power Plant

“Inter RAO-Engineering” is also taking part in the construction of “Rooppur” NPP by creating the first construction base for the future works. As of now, a number of facilities have already been finished.

Ghorasal Power Plant

In October 2016, “Inter RAO-Engineering” won a tender to perform an overhaul repairs of Block 1 of “Siddirganj” power station.

Another major sector of our economic cooperation is related to IT and cyber-security. Bangladesh’s burgeoning IT market attracts Russian information and telecom companies. One can mention such well-known brands, as Kaspersky, “Ollo”, RealVU, etc. The major stakeholder of Bangladeshi mobile operator “Banglalink Digital Communications Ltd” is the multinational holding of Russian origin “Vympelcom”.

Kaspersky Lab, a world reputed Russian cyber security solution providing company is extremely popular in Bangladesh and commands an exclusively vast market share in the Bangladesh IT industry. It has become a household name although back in 2008 it was a cyber security software pioneer here. Today Kaspersky Lab provides IT security services across homes, small businesses and enterprises and has a large clientel base.

On April 28, 2016, the GS Group, international investment and industry holding company, launched RealVU – the first direct-to-home (DTH) digital television service in Bangladesh. The project is implemented in partnership with the Bangladeshi multi-sector conglomerate BEXIMCO. The GS Group acts as a supplier and integrator of its in-house hardware and software solutions in accordance with the modern standards of digital television.

Currently, DTH platform RealVU offers more than 100 TV channels in SD and HD quality, including Russia Today TV Channel (RTTV). The digital TV set-top boxes developed by the GS Group correspond to the needs of modern viewers. In particular, users enjoy such functions as PVR (personal video recording) and TimeShift along with an EPG (electronic program guide).

The GS Group’s international broadcast projects provide bright examples of Russian high technologies successfully entering the global market. RealVU brings mass accessibility to high-quality digital television service in a country that has 165 million plus population.

Bangladesh Internet Exchange (BIEL) is working in Bangladesh since 2007 under “Ollo” wireless Internet Brand and has invested more than 100 million USD into Bangladesh economy. “Ollo” is the first and only operator which commercially launched LTE 4G network in Bangladesh, operational in Dhaka, Sylhet, Jessore, Gopalganj, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, Moulvibazar and other cities. BIEL is closely working with A2I PMO program and DNCC committee for providing access to Internet for unconnected population, especially in rural areas in line with governmental Digital Bangladesh program.

In April 2015, the CIS-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CIS-BCCI) was established. One of the goals of the CIS-BCCI is increasing RMG exports to the CIS countries, including Russia, up to 10 billion USD. The CIS-BCCI has taken part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum twice. In 2015, the CIS-BCCI signed a cooperation agreement with St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Of particular importance in terms of promoting bilateral business ties between our countries was the visit of H.E. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, Minister of Finance of Bangladesh, to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in June 2016 as a head of representative delegation of local business leaders, including the members of the CIS-BCCI. On the final day of the Forum, “Russia – Bangladesh: An Era of New Opportunities” panel session was held where major issues of economic cooperation between Russia and Bangladesh were discussed.

EDUCATIONAL COOPERATION

Russia regards cooperation with Bangladesh in the field of education as a very important sphere of the bilateral relations since it provides a direct contribution to the development of the country’s human resources. It goes back to the 1970s when Bangladesh was making its first steps as an independent state. Since that time, over five thousand students from Bangladesh have graduated from Russian institutions of higher education. Now they work almost in all spheres, including governmental bodies and private business. The Soviet&Russian Alumni Association of Bangladesh unites all those who studied in our country.

Since 1995, the Russian Education and Science Ministry has been providing scholarships for Bangladeshi students. In 2017, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation allocated 53 full-paid scholarships, 20 of them - for nuclear science.

Russia and Bangladesh are working to sign a new intergovernmental agreement on mutual recognition and equivalence of educational documents and scientific degrees.

 

CULTURAL COOPERATION

Cultural cooperation is one of the most actively developing spheres of the Russia-Bangladesh relationship, contributing to better mutual understanding as a non-material basis for the bilateral relations.

The brightest page in the recent history of our cultural cooperation, without any doubt, is related to the Days of Russian culture in Bangladesh and the Days of Bangladeshi culture in Russia. As per the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the sphere of Culture for the years 2013-2015, signed during the visit of Sheikh Hasina to Moscow, the Days of Russian Culture were held in Bangladesh on November 21-26, 2014 (inaugurated by Gregory Ivliev, Deputy Minister for Culture of Russia), and on September 11-17, 2015, the Days of Bangladeshi Culture were held in Russia (inaugurated by Asaduzzaman Noor, Minister for Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh).

The Days of Russian Culture in Bangladesh took place in Dhaka and Chittagong. The Orenburg State Academic Russian Folk Choir, led by its artistic director People’s Artist V.A. Pozdneev, visited Bangladesh. The photo exhibition “Images of Russia” was organized for Dhaka residents. The Bangladeshi audience was fascinated by the performance of the Russian artists while Russian performers were deeply moved by sympathy of the people of Bangladesh.

 

Orenburg Choir in Dhaka. November, 2014

 

In September 2015, the reciprocal Days of Bangladeshi Culture in Russia were held in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Bangladeshi artists performed at the Main Stage of the Maly Theatre in Moscow, the most famous and old-aged drama theatre in Russia, as well as in the Central Public Park “Sokolniki”, one of the most favourite and popular recreational sites of Moscow dwellers, and at the V.F.Komissarzhevskaya Theatre in St. Petersburg. The “Beautiful Bangladesh” photography show, held both in Moscow and St. Petersburg, acquainted its visitors with the culture, historical figures and the natural beauty of Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi performers in Moscow. September 2015

Russian artists regularly visit Bangladesh and participate in various cultural programs here, including Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh.

In April, 2014 Russian ensemble “Silver Strings” gave several performances in Dhaka. Two young artists of St. Petersburg Music House Alexei Morozov (fleut) and Nikolay Saratovski (piano) performed in Dhaka in May, 2015. On November 10-11, 2015, Nikolay Stranatkovskii (trumpet) and Vladislav Fedorov (piano) of the same Music House visited Dhaka with a concert programme.

Concert of the artists of St. Petersburg Music House. November 10, 2015

“Bangla Amar Desh” exhibition of modern Russian artists, twin sisters of Bangladeshi origin, Rubina and Sabina Khosseyn, was held at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on February 13-18, 2016. The exhibition was devoted to the second motherland of Rubina and Sabina Khosseyn, who were born in Moscow, but are intimately attached to their Bangladeshi roots since their father is from Bangladesh. The event was inaugurated by Minister for Cultural Affairs of Bangladesh Asaduzzaman Noor.

In January 2017, within the framework of Russia-Bangladesh cultural exchange program, well-known Russian painter Sergei Radiuk visited Bangladesh. As one of the initiators of international organization of artists “Sunny Square” and founder of a painting school by the same name in Moscow, Sergei Radiuk organized a painting exhibition “Ladies Come Flying” at Gallery Cosmos, Dhaka, and held a workshop at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, where he shared his painting techniques with students of Fine Art of the University of Dhaka.

The troupe of the well-known Russian theatre Chekhov Studio performed in Dhaka on February 6-11, 2017. During their Dhaka trip, the actors of Chekhov Studio gave a concert at the Embassy’s reception on the occasion of Diplomats’ Day, staged plays “The Seagull” and “The Bear” at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy and conducted workshops on acting, direction and stage design for Bangladeshi theatre artists and students of theatre departments of various universities.

The Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Dhaka regularly organizes cultural and educational programmes (lectures, exhibitions, film shows, meetings of alumni of Soviet and Russian universities, etc.).