Russia - Our sincere gratitude to them — I
The Liberation War of Bangladesh was one of the most memorable events of the 20th century, tragic and glorious simultaneously, and also was an important factor of the international diplomacy and politics. An important diplomatic, political and military polarisation took place in the year of 1971 centring the liberation war of Bangladesh and the genocide committed by Pakistan army. Powerful and wealthy countries took a very clear stand concerning Bangladesh. Among the super powers, USA and China along with most of the Islamic and Arab countries (Egypt was an exception) supported Pakistan's steps and the genocide accordingly. On the other hand, India and Soviet Union were the most important friend of Bangladesh. In Dhaka, negotiations between the key players finally broke down on 24th March, 1971 and that night the Pakistani army launched its crackdown, with an orgy of violence that left millions of innocent people dead and turned even apolitical Bengalis into fervent nationalists. In December 1970, Pakistan held general elections, its first since independence. The Awami League, headed by the-then East Pakistan's popular Bengali leader Bangabandhu Mujibur Rahman won a majority of seats in the new assembly, but West Pakistan's chief martial law administrator and president, General Yahya Khan refused to honour the democratic choice of his nation's majority. At the end of March 1971, after failed negotiations in which Mujib demanded virtual independence for East Pakistan, Yahya Khan ordered a military massacre in Bangladesh.
In 1971, Bangladesh was burning when Pakistan started atrocities on Bengali people and it started Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Fierce military operations developed on the ground, in the air and in the sea. On 3rd December 1971 India entered into the war of Independence in Bangladesh and supported the Bangladeshi Nationalist Force and on 16 December 1971 Pakistan surrendered with 90,000+ soldiers, highest since World War II. But without the direct support of Soviet Union and India, it was not easy to win Bangladesh. Because of quick obstruction by Russia both America and China did not dare to do more harm to Bangladesh and India. With this, finally, a new country named Bangladesh was emerged on December 16, 1971. But just before emergence of Bangladesh, the Soviet Intelligence got a report that the English operative connection had come nearer to territorial India, water led by an aircraft carrier "Eagle" on December 10, 1971. For helping friendly Bangladesh and India, the Soviet government had directed a group of ships under the command of Vladimir Kruglyakov of Russia to baffle this move and Vladimir remembered:"I was ordered by the Chief Commander to track the British Navy's advancement; I positioned our battleships in the Bay of Bengal and watched for the British carrier "Eagle". Therefore, to support the existing Soviet fleet in the Bay of Bengal, Soviet cruisers, destroyers and nuclear submarines, equipped with anti-ship missiles, were sent from Vladivostok. In reaction English Navy retreated and went south to Madagascar. Soon the news of American carrier Enterprise and USS Tripoli's advancement towards Indian water came. Kruglyakov further said: "I had obtained the order from the commander-in-chief not to allow the advancement of the American fleet to the military bases of India. We encircled them and aimed the missiles at the 'Enterprise'. We had blocked their way and didn't allow them to head anywhere, neither to Karachi, nor to Chittagong or Dhaka".
On the Chief Commander's order Kruglyakov lifted the submarines and brought them to the surface so that it could be pictured by the American spy satellites or could be seen by the American Navy!' It was done to demonstrate that Soviet Union had all the needed things in Indian Ocean, including the nuclear submarines. He had lifted them, and they recognised it. Then Soviet commander intercepted the American communication. The commander of the Carrier Battle Group was then the counter-admiral Dimon Gordon. He sent the report to the 7th American Fleet Commander: "Sir, we are too late. There are Russian nuclear submarines here, and a big collection of battleships."Americans then returned and couldn't do anything. Soviet Union had also threatened China that if they ever opened a front against India on its border, they would receive a tough response from North. In 1971, the USSR not only supported the struggle of the people of Bangladesh for independence and was one of the first to recognise the new sovereign state. Of great importance was the Soviet Union's position in the UN during the discussions of the 1971 war. They vetoed the UN Security Council's resolutions, sponsored by our enemies, the United States and China favouring Bangladesh and India.
On January 25, 1972, Soviet Union exchanged notes on establishing diplomatic relations with our country. Later, USSR also assisted Bangladesh in joining the United Nations Organisation. In 1972-74, the Soviet Union extended its helping hand to Bangladesh in reviving its economy, destroyed during the Liberation War. At that time, the first highest and high-level contacts took place between Russia and Bangladesh. Bangladesh Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Foreign Minister Abdus Samad Azad visited the USSR where they signed intergovernmental agreements on economic and technical cooperation, trade and trade representation, cultural and scientific cooperation, on providing free assistance to Bangladesh for restoring navigation in its seaports, as well as on air connection between our countries.
Our Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman met Leonid I. Brezhnev, Secretary General of the Central Committee of the USSR Communist Party, along with USSR Defence Minister Marshall Andrei A Grechko on March 2, 1972. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman approached the Soviet leadership with the request to assist in minesweeping of the Chittagong port and clearing it of sunken ships and vessels. On March 21, 1972 the Soviet delegation came to Dhaka to work out the bilateral agreement on the minesweeping and clearing operation in the Bay of Bengal. The first Soviet minesweeper entered the port of Chittagong on April 26, 1972. The works on minesweeping and raising sunken ships was concluded within a little over two years. During the operation, a senior sailor Yuri V Redkin lost his life. His grave is situated on the premises of Bangladesh Military Navy Academy. This is a poignant story. He came here to serve our country and to work for us and died for our cause, but we have forgotten this hero. "Our young republic would find itself in extremely difficult position if the Soviet seamen did not assist us," Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh said at the sailors' farewell ceremony. "I thank all Soviet seamen for huge work on restoration of the Chittagong port which was conducted despite difficult climatic and living conditions."
In the 1970s and later, the USSR helped Bangladesh in revitalising and developing of its economy. In particular, the biggest power plants at Ghorashal, Siddhirganj, electrical equipment factory in Chittagong and other objects were built with financial and technical assistance of Soviet Union. On December 29, 1991, Russia was recognised by Bangladesh government as a successor to the USSR. At present, the bilateral cooperation between the two countries is developing in many spheres. Contacts between different ministries and state agencies are regular. Both the countries are working on a number of joint economic projects. Political, cultural and educational cooperation between Russia and Bangladesh is on the rise. Moscow and Dhaka share common stance on the majority of international issues. At present, Russia and Bangladesh maintain regular contacts on the highest and high levels.
On January 14-16, 2013, Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit to Moscow on the invitation of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. This became the first visit of such a high level in the history of the bilateral relations between Russia and Bangladesh in the last 40 years. Vladimir Putin and Sheikh Hasina held extensive negotiations on numerous issues of bilateral and international agenda. During this landmark visit, Russia and Bangladesh signed three intergovernmental agreements on credit cooperation and six memoranda of understanding in different spheres. These documents covered cooperation in nuclear energy, weapons supply, agriculture, education, health, culture, justice and counter-terrorism.
In June 2015, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov had a fruitful meeting with Bangladeshi State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam in Moscow. Both Sides underscored the necessity to boost bilateral relations, reached a consensus to sign shortly the Visa Waiver Agreement for holders of Diplomatic and Official Passports, and stressed the importance of launching a Russia-Bangladesh Joint Commission in order to further strengthen trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation between the two countries. Holding close or similar positions on numerous international and regional issues, Russia and Bangladesh cooperate in the United Nations and other international platforms. Russia-Bangladesh economic and trade relations are based on the intergovernmental Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation and Trade Agreement dated 1972. As of January 1, 2016, the volume of bilateral trade between Russia and Bangladesh amounts to USD 1.447 Billion. It is noteworthy that the export from Russia is almost equal to the import from Bangladesh. Inauguration of the 1st phase of Rooppur NPP project, October 2, 2013 was made and the work is progressing satisfactorily.r
(The second part will appear tomorrow)
Anwar A Khan is a political commentator and an author