As the curtain comes down on another year, it is difficult to look beyond the war in Ukraine as the defining geopolitical event of the last twelve months. Not only has it unleashed misery on millions of Ukrainians who are directly affected, it shattered Europe's carefully maintained sense of security in the post-World War II era, ripped up the geopolitical map and rocked the global economy. The shockwaves made life more expensive in homes across Europe, worsened a global migrant crisis and complicated the world's response to climate change. The tremors were being felt as far away as Bangladesh, even in the dying days of 2022.
Plenty of governments around the world have been put in the spot to choose one side or the other (either Russia or Ukraine and its Western allies, namely NATO). We came to know this week about the starkest instance yet that the administration in Dhaka has faced, with the disclosure that on December 20, the government was forced to deny entry to a Russian ship carrying parts for the new Rooppur nuclear power plant. Russia's state nuclear agency, Rosatom, is the prime contractor for Rooppur, and it had opted to bring in a shipment of power plant components aboard the Russian-flagged general cargo ship Ursa Major.
However, the Ursa Major (ex-name Sparta III) is owned Oboronlogistika OOO, a logistics provider serving the Russian military, that was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury in May 2022 in connection with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. To be fair, this is publicly available information that is available on the U.S. Treasury's website for all to see, where all vessels under sanctions are listed in alphabetical order. Most ports' own online bulletin boards have reposted the list on their own portals, signifying the authorities are keeping track of these things. But there is no indication that the authorities in Bangladesh, be it the for the port in Mongla or Chittagong, are following suit. Why else would the US Embassy feel the need to take the initiative and inform the government that a sanctioned ship was headed to our shores, and all the possible repercussions thereof?
Understandably, Moscow is said to be not best pleased with the outcome in this instance. Following a break brought on by the outbreak of the war, Russia resumed its shipments of components for the Rooppur plant in August, using a mix of Russian and neutral, foreign-flag vessels. These included the Russian-flagged Kamilla and the Liberian-flagged Dragonball. Hopefully that modus operandi can be resumed swiftly, for Bangladesh certainly cannot afford to put itself at risk of secondary US sanctions. Although at the end of the week, before all this had died down, we heard the formal announcement that the country's first nuclear power plant is indeed going to miss its December 2023 deadline. The first of its two units will not be able to start production before July 2024 now. Call it coincidence.
It all goes to show the sticky wicket the government is on, trying to balance its relationship with the two great military superpowers. And Sheikh Hasina's government, you can be sure, is not the only one. At the moment, there seems to be a greater emphasis on arming Ukraine to stand its ground, than bringing all the players to the negotiating table. It makes it all the more imperative that the international community finds the wherewithal to dig deep and come up with a solution that brings the war to an end. That must be our single biggest priority in 2023.
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