Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on 23 November on a two-day visit to attend the ministerial-level meeting of Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), an inter-governmental organisation of 23 countries formed in 1997 to foster regional economic cooperation.

However, foreign policy analysts say his visit to Dhaka has a distinct geopolitical importance under the current global context of Russia-Ukraine war.

They also think the Russian foreign minister is coming to Dhaka in an attempt to woo Bangladesh to stand by their side like India in South Asia.

While Bangladesh wants to place some issues including food safety and Rohingya crisis before Russia.    

The foreign ministry officials on Tuesday told Prothom Alo that Sergei Lavrov would come to Dhaka on a two-day visit on 23 November. Before attending the IORA council, he will call on the prime minister Sheikh Hasina in the evening on 23 November. The next day morning, the foreign minister will meet his Bangladeshi counterpart, AK Abdul Momen.

The senior officials has said the visit has both bilateral and international importance.

In the bilateral point of view, a Russian foreign minister is visiting Bangladesh for the first time in 50 years after the independence. He will try to renew and strengthen the bilateral ties between Bangladesh and Russia, referring the pivotal role of Soviet Union during the country’s liberation war in 1971. Both parties will discuss their challenges.

From international perspective, Russia has been in trouble since they engaged in war against Ukraine in February. They are losing their strength steadily as the western block controls the international organisations. So, despite a permanent member of UN Security Council, they are compelled to place different issues at the General Assembly. In the given circumstance, they are trying to strengthen their position in the world stage, which is why they want India and Bangladesh at their side, the officials claimed.     

The diplomatic sources said although the visit is for attending the IORA council meeting, Moscow is stressing on the matter of political relations. Russia has been waiting for a long time to join the IORA.

When asked about the matter, the foreign minister AK Abdul Momen on Monday told Prothom Alo over phone that "Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed his visit to Dhaka to me. It is a good news. I will meet with him and discuss different issues openly, including bilateral and international."

Rohingya and geopolitics in agenda

Days ago, Russia sent a draft agenda to Bangladesh over the meeting with foreign minister AK Abdul Momen.

The agenda includes the analysis of bilateral cooperation, development of Rooppur nuclear power plant, assistance in education sector, reforms in legal framework, cooperation in the United Nations (UN), cooperation in IORA, situation centering the Ukraine war, and discussion over Rohinya refugee crisis and India and Pacific ocean region.     

Russia incorporated the Rohingya crisis into their agenda meaning that they understood what Bangladesh wants from them. Bangladesh is in discomfort over Myanmar and Rohingya. Over the issue, Sergei Lavrov will clarify their stance.

Apart from this, they will bring the geo-political issue to the fore mentioning their position centering India and Pacific Ocean region. 

The official thinks the Russian foreign minister will also strongly highlight the issue of getting Bangladesh in their favour in the global stage during his Dhaka visit.   

Bangladesh admits that the country will face a challenge of global polarisation centering the visit of Sergei Lavrov to Dhaka.

When asked about the issue, foreign secretary Masud Bin Momen on Sunday told the newsmen that it is true that there is a kind of challenge. However, Bangladesh will strongly place their expectations, like food safety and Rohingya crisis, to Russia.

Assessment of the state of Russian assistance

Bangladesh depends on Russian wheat and fertiliser. A fear has appeared on the import of these two products since the Russian-Ukraine war began in February last. Amid this circumstance, an inter-ministerial meeting was held at the foreign ministry on Monday as part of the preparation for the visit of the Russian foreign minister with foreign secretary (west) Shabbir Ahmad Chowdhury in the chair.

Issues including progress of Rooppur power plant project, post-procurement situation of the arms purchases from Russia under loan agreement and situation of wheat, fertiliser and fuel oil were reviewed at the meeting.

At the Monday’s meeting, officials were informed that Bangladesh mainly imports potash from Russia. A deal was signed with Moscow last year to import 270,000 tonnes of potash. Russia halted the export of potash after supplying 60,000 tonnes to Bangladesh since the fertiliser manufacturing company faces sanctions from the West.

Recently, Bangladesh singed a government-to-government deal with Russia to procure 500,000 tonnes of wheat. Since Bangladesh does not have adequate preservation facility, Russia is supplying 50,000 tonnes of wheat a month.

Regarding the fuel issue, an official attending the Monday’s meeting said a private firm of Bangladesh proposed to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russia, but the government has clearly stated that import of LNG from Russia must be done through government channel. The government has no plan to involve private sector in the LNG import for now.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former foreign secretary and Dehli University Bangabndhu chair Md Shahidul Haque said the visit of Sergei Lavrov is very significant at that time when Russian has largely been isolated in the perspective of its war with Ukraine. Increasing their friends is also another side of the visit of Sergei Lavrov.

Besides, another mission of this visit is to show the international arena that Russia itself is a party in the geopolitical competition over Indian Ocean. As a result, Bangladesh must emphasise involvement with Russia giving priority to national interest by considering all these issues, he added.

This report appeared in the online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by NH Sajjad and Hasanul Banna