Ukraine war, Russia-US rivalry makes things complex for Bangladesh: Report

A combination of the flags of Bangladesh, Russia, USA, China
Prothom Alo illustration

The Ukraine war has made things complex for Bangladesh with the Moscow-Washington rivalry posing as a test for Dhaka’s nonaligned foreign policy. The country needs to maintain its relations with both the US and Russia, which will be difficult as the war rages on, notes a report in the European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS).

The testing moment comes as the country prepares for two major elections.

The Bangladesh Election Commission, this past week, announced that the election for the next president of Bangladesh will be held on 19 February and a more significant event in the form of the (12th) general elections is marked to be held early next year.

Amidst all this, large protest rallies have been organised in Bangladesh by the political opposition, mainly the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.

According to EFSAS, the external pressures that Bangladesh has come under since Russia invaded Ukraine last year reached such proportions that an enraged foreign minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen felt it necessary to caution that his country did not want any foreign interference in Dhaka’s internal affairs.

Bangladesh has in the last few years, also had to carefully balance its relationship with the US and China as there has been escalating competition between the two. Dhaka views both as important for Bangladesh’s long-term interests and would like cordiality and cooperation with each.

A Bangladeshi media recently reported that Bangladesh is caught up between China and the US as both want a strategic alliance with the country as they wrangle over superpower status in the region.

The US is worried that its recent tensions with Bangladesh could turn into an opportunity for China to come closer to it.

Recently, Bangladesh foreign minister A K Abdul Momen, said that: “Bangladesh wants to maintain good relations with both the US and China. That is a challenging thing.”

Bangladesh’s relationship with Washington has been troubled since December 2021, after the US declared sanctions on Bangladesh’s elite security force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), over alleged human rights violations such as enforced disappearances.

Relations further soured after the US in 2022, called on Bangladesh to ensure that the upcoming elections be free and fair. Momen said that his country did not need lessons on democracy from other nations.

Dhaka, however, also has tensions with Beijing.

In May 2021, the then ambassador of China to Bangladesh said that the relationship between the two countries could be “substantially damaged” if the South Asian country joined any initiative launched by the Washington-led Quad alliance.

Bangladesh in reply said that it is a sovereign state and would make its own decisions about the nation’s foreign policy.