The visit by Lavrov, and the upcoming one by Macron, send an important signal: Dhaka will not be isolated
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said relevant agencies are discussing the possibility of supplying LNG to Bangladesh.
"They are also discussing the possibility of supplying wheat and fertilisers," he said.
"We appreciate the fact that despite pressure exerted on Bangladesh by the US and its allies, our Bangladeshi friends are guided exclusively by their national interest," Lavrov told reporters on Thursday night after his meeting with Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen.
In an hour-long meeting followed by a working dinner, the two sides covered all bilateral and regional issues, including the Rohingya and Ukraine crises.
"Russia will continue to supply Bangladesh with food grains, energy. We also agreed on a road map to work towards duty free access of Bangladeshi exports," said State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam.
Lavrov, who served as Russia's permanent representative to the UN for 10 years before Vladimir Putin chose him to be his chief sherpa on the international stage in 2004, said that they will consider changing the modalities of work such as instead of discussing trade annually, the two countries will make it a permanent avenue of operation.
Lavrov spoke about the Rohingya crisis and said that they support Bangladesh's ongoing 'conversations with Myanmar'. He said they support continuous negotiations between Bangladesh and Myanmar in finding the solutions.
"We believe that outside actors should limit themselves to simply creating favourable conditions for a mutually acceptable solution. This is exactly what the Russian Federation is doing in its context with Myanmar and will continue doing so," he said.
However, the Russian foreign minister also said certain outside players use these issues to exert pressure on one of the parties and to interfere in its domestic affairs.
"I believe that this is both counterproductive and unacceptable," continued Lavrov.
The Russian foreign minister said they have agreed to increase and strengthen trade and investment relations with Bangladesh.
Describing Bangladesh as a long-standing partner in South Asia, Lavrov said they are intensifying their bilateral contacts here. He also talked about the flagship Ruppur Nuclear Power Plant project, and laid emphasis on its implementation in a consistent manner.
"We are very delighted as the Russian foreign minister is visiting Bangladesh for the first time. We have deep relations with Russia," said his Bangladeshi counterpart, Abdul Momen.
Momen said they discussed the Rohingya issue, trade and investment and greater market access to Russia.
"We don't want war. We want all issues to get resolved through dialogue and discussion," Momen said.
He mentioned the role that the then-Soviet Union played when Bangladesh was in the process of gaining independence, recalling not just the support provided in 1971 to the popular struggle, but also the political and economic assistance to the nascent state.
"Since then, our relations have consistently been based on the principles of equality, mutual respect, and consideration of each other's interests," said Lavrov, speaking ahead of the bilateral meeting led by him and Momen. "I am positive that our talks will reaffirm this trend and further strengthen it."
In what may have been his most telling comment, Lavrov said they (Russia) will work with their partners in the region in order to resist any attempt to impose any outsider's dictate here.
Trend and Investment
In recent years, bilateral trade between Russia and Bangladesh has consistently exceeded $2 billion. Staple Russian exports include industrial equipment, metals, mineral fertiliser, and wheat.
The primary imports to Russia consist mainly of clothing and seafood. In 2022, due to the adverse international situation, our trade fell by 21.4 percent to $2.35 billion.
Measures to overcome this negative trend will be discussed by the Intergovernmental Russian-Bangladeshi Commission on Trade, Economic, and Scientific-Technical Cooperation.
The commission's first meeting was held in Moscow on October 24, 2018, the second in Dhaka on November 14, 2019, and the third and fourth took place via videoconference on December 15, 2021 and March 15, 2023, respectively.
The construction of Bangladesh's first nuclear power plant, Rooppur, is the flagship project of bilateral partnership. Its commissioning in 2024-2025 will come as a breakthrough in Bangladesh's energy sector, the Russian side said.
At the same time, Russia's involvement in its construction ensures long-term work for over 100 industrial companies in Russia.
Russian expertise in traditional energy is highly sought after in Bangladesh. A Gazprom subsidiary, Gazprom International Limited, essentially the overseas arm of the company, has been successfully operating in the country. From 2012 to 2023, it has drilled and completed 20 gas field wells in Bangladesh on a turnkey basis.
Lavrov, the world's longest-serving foreign minister, arrived in Dhaka on Thursday evening (Sep. 7), stopping over on his way to the G20 Summit in New Delhi for the first such visit by a man in his position, seen as an important step signalling solidarity, amid all the various pressure campaigns and arm-twisting characterising a global geopolitical scenario in flux.
Before leaving for Delhi later today (Sep. 8), he was expected to meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday morning, and visit the Bangabandhu Memorial Museum in Dhanmondi.
Lavrov was scheduled to visit Bangladesh on November 23 last year, mainly to attend the 22nd IORA Council of Ministers meeting, held in Dhaka on November 24. But the visit was called off at the last minute.
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