On 21 November, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov phoned his Bangladesh counterpart AK Abdul Momen.

He was scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on an offal trip on 23 November two days after the phone conversation, but Russia on 19 November said its foreign minister would not be visiting Dhaka.

Had Sergei Lavrov visited Dhaka, it would have been the first visit of any Russian foreign minister to Bangladesh. The visit of the foreign minister of Russia, formerly known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that played special role during the 1971 liberation war, carries special significance, though Bangladesh was somewhat in an uncomfortable situation over the visit of Sergei Lavrov because of the global situation stirred by the war.

Dhaka would be the centre of international attention because of his visit. However, Sergei Lavrov was scheduled to pay a courtesy call on prime minister Sheikh Hasina and hold a bilateral meeting with AK Abdul Momen on the sideline of the ministerial meeting of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), which was held in Dhaka late November.

Russia called the meeting between two foreign ministers as ‘talks of negotiation’ and included Rohingya crisis and geopolitics over Indian Ocean in the meeting minutes. Amid this situation, international community had been curious over Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Bangladesh.

Following the telephone conversation between two foreign ministers on 21 November, the foreign ministry in a press release said the visit of Sergei Lavrov was cancelled due to ‘schedule complexity’.

Many of the people concerned disagree to it as a third country is believed to have been involved in cancelling Sergei Lavrov’s trip that was halted only four days before the scheduled time after everything was finalised. That party also informed Bangladesh about its apparent discomfort over the trip and they are maintaining communication with Bangladesh on behalf of Russia regularly.

According to diplomatic sources, the Momen-Lavrov conversation on 21 November focused on Russia-Ukraine war as well as their demands. Sergei Lavrov alleged that the Western world led by the US is trapped in the ‘colonial mind-set’ while Abdul Momen briefed his Russian counterpart on the role of USSR during the birth of Bangladesh and the logic for Bangladesh voting at UN sessions recently.

On his expectation to Dhaka, Sergei Lavrov said Bangladesh will not pick a side and they are respectful to present stance taken by Bangladesh. He further said they want Bangladesh votes for Russia at various UN agencies or at least abstain from voting. Overall, Moscow wants Bangladesh no longer votes against Russia during any UN session in future.

Though Moscow strongly wants Dhaka by its side in international voting and polarisation over Russia-Ukraine war, the stance of European Union differs slightly.

The remarks of EU diplomats surprised the Dhaka officials during the first political dialogue on 24 November. EU deputy secretary general Enrique Mora told the dialogue that the EU respects the policy and ideological stance of Bangladesh during the voting at UN. EU and Bangladesh share similarities, especially, on their stance on respect to human values, territorial integrity and sovereignty. EU does not want to impose any proposal on Bangladesh picking a side.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, former foreign secretary and Dehli University Bangabndhu chair Md Shahidul Haque said Bangladesh has become important in Indian Ocean region because of geopolitical competition and geo-economics and other countries analyse Bangladesh’s stance during voting on many issues.

It is necessary to take decision by understanding others’ position on geopolitics in addition to adapting to other issues in this rapidly changing situation and there is very less opportunity to become rigid on any stance, he observed.

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