Russia expresses ‘serious concern’ about Bangladesh ties after US-sanctioned ships blocked

Ahammad Foyez
Russia expresses ‘serious concern’ about Bangladesh ties after US-sanctioned ships blocked Two people on a motorcycle pass the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, the country’s first nuclear power plant, which Russia is helping build, in Pabna District, west of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Feb. 14, 2023.
Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Moscow has told Dhaka it is seriously concerned about the decision to ban the entry of Washington-sanctioned Russian ships into Bangladesh ports, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Bangladesh envoy to Moscow, Kamrul Ahsan, was summoned Tuesday by the Russian foreign ministry and told that the ban did not bode well for the sectors the nations cooperate in, the Russian statement issued Tuesday said.

In January, Bangladesh banned the entry of nearly 70 United States-sanctioned Russian ships, weeks after blocking another one carrying goods for a huge nuclear power plant that Moscow is helping Dhaka build.

In its statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry spoke obliquely of the help it is providing Bangladesh, saying that blocking its ships “may have a negative impact on the prospects for our cooperation in various fields.

“During the conversation [with Ahsan], the current state of Russian-Bangladeshi cooperation was discussed, a number of aspects of which cause serious concern to the Russian side,” said the statement posted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on its website.

“In particular, they drew the attention of the head of the diplomatic mission to information about the decision of the authorities of his country to ban the entry into their ports of Russian ships carrying goods for Bangladesh.”

BenarNews reported earlier this month that according to a Jan. 16 notification, Bangladesh banned the entry of 69 large cargo ships belonging to seven Russian companies, in accordance with United States sanctions on them.

The United States and other Western countries imposed sanctions on Russian entities following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

On Christmas Eve, Dhaka had blocked sanctioned Russian ship Ursa Major, which was carrying cargo apparently to be delivered to the country’s Rooppur nuclear power plant, which Russian state-run Rosatom is constructing.

On Wednesday, the Bangladesh Foreign Ministry confirmed its envoy was summoned, but said it would brief the media about it on Thursday.

“We asked our ambassador to send a report. We are going to analyze what was discussed,” Bangladesh State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam told reporters.

“We have already informed that not only this particular issue, some other bilateral issues were also discussed at the meeting.”

The minister declined to comment on a report by Russian state media TASS, which said Bangladesh had blocked the ships “under the threat of secondary U.S. sanctions.”

‘Ensure balanced relations’

Bangladesh is caught in the middle of a U.S.-Russia power struggle and the timing of the Russian summons is telling, an analyst said.

“It’s a challenge for Bangladesh to maintain relations with both the U.S. and Russia,” Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University, told BenarNews.

“Recent visits by some high-profile U.S. officials to Bangladesh have made it clear that the country is trying to ensure dominance here. Now, it’s the duty of Bangladeshi diplomats to ensure balanced relations.”

He was referring to last week’s visit to Bangladesh by U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet. Additionally, Donald Lu, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian Affairs, and Rear Adm. Eileen Laubacher, senior director for South Asia, National Security Council, visited the South Asian nation last month.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina counts Russia as one of her strongest allies. The ties between her Awami League party and the Russian state date to Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971, which the Soviet Union supported.

Immediately after she returned to power following the 2008 election, Hasina signed a treaty with Russia to build the Rooppur nuclear power plant. The costliest infrastructure project ever undertaken in Bangladesh, it has solidified ties between the two countries.

An official at Rosatom, the nuclear corporation building the Bangladesh nuclear plant, said the Russian firm plans to send some light equipment for the plant via air.

“Most of the heavy materials have already been sent to the site,” said the Rosatom official in Bangladesh, who asked not be named because he is not allowed to talk to the media.

“If needed, the company would use such vessels which are out of sanctions, in the future,” he told BenarNews.               


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