Bangladesh abstained from voting in the UN General Assembly on a resolution opposing the recent Moscow-inspired Crimean referendum. There were 100 votes in favour of the resolution, 11 against, and 58 abstentions in the 193-nation assembly. In the referendum, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly affirmed Ukraine’s territorial integrity and deemed the referendum that led to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula illegal.
The position of Bangladesh came in for criticism from USA. US regretted Bangladesh abstention from Crimea resolution. The US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena fumed that “Bangladesh was not able to join the majority on that important issue”. The American criticism is unjustified considering the fact the Bangladesh has full right to choose its foreign policy options: besides the US should also remember that India and China also took the same stance.
Regarding the Bangladeshi vote, State Minister for Foreign Affairs M Shahriar Alam explained the stance commenting that abstention was in line with the policy of Bangladesh being a member of the G-77 and the Non Aligned Movement. At one level, this seems a plausible explanation as one of the principles of the Non Aligned Movement is to observe political neutrality in a conflict where the interests of two superpowers are at conflict. By abstaining from the General Assembly’s vote Dhaka wanted to remain neutral in this Washington-Moscow rivalry. Since its foundation, Bangladesh’s foreign policy has been guided by the principle “friendship to all, malice to none.” This was reflected in Dhaka’s enthusiastic participation in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Even in its more recent history, Bangladesh has been reluctant to take sides when it comes to country-specific resolutions at the UN: it has abstained on resolutions concerning Bosnia, Georgia and Kosovo, for instance. Kosovo’s request for recognition as a sovereign state is still under consideration at Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry. The Crimea abstention is merely a continuation of a long-term policy.
Another factor behind the Bangladeshi stand on Crimea pertains to the relation between Bangladesh and Russia. Bangladesh and Russia have historically enjoyed cordial relations. The former Soviet Union vetoed—at least twice—U.S.-backed resolutions to intervene in Bangladesh’s war of independence against Pakistan in 1971.
In the past few years Russia and Bangladesh have entered into a number of defence and economic cooperation programme. In 2013, Dhaka and Moscow signed on Tuesday a $1 billion deal under which Bangladesh would procure military hardware from Russian Federation. This is the biggest ever arms purchase initiative of the country. This purchase agreement includes orders for armored vehicles and infantry weapons, air defence systems and Mi-17 transport helicopters. Bangladesh is purchasing this military hardware as part of its efforts to expand its defence capabilities on ground, air and water. Under another agreement Bangladesh will receive $500 million credit from Russia for the construction of the much-talked-about 2,000 megawatt nuclear power plant at Rooppur. The MoUs cover a whole gamut of cooperation in different fields like agriculture, public health, medical science, education, counterterrorism, culture, law, justice and parliamentary affairs. Russia’s state-owned Gazprom has been awarded contracts for drilling 10 wells in existing gas fields of Bangladesh. Both nations also enjoy healthy trade relations. Estimates put bilateral trade north of $700 million and Dhaka is hoping to boost that by seeking duty-free access to the Russian Federation market.
In all overall perspective, one can say that Bangladesh has been quiet pragmatic in its approach towards Crimea. It has followed an independent foreign policy regardless of the US pressure. To an extent, it may be true that its economic and military relations with Russia have been an influencing factor in Bangladesh policy choice on Crimea. Yet, it cannot be denied that the policy choice is in consonance with the principles of abstaining from the conflict of two major players as enshrined by the founding father of the Non Aligned Movement.