Our silence on Ukraine speaks volumes

The Bangladeshi voice no longer falls upon deaf ears. What we say (or not say) matters

It has been about two weeks since the Russian invasion into Ukraine commenced. Almost every country, prominent organization, and person of influence has expressed their views on the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Switzerland, too, famous for its centuries-long history of neutrality, has decided to impose sanctions on Russian accounts. Is it too much to ask for the Bangladeshi government to provide a stance? 

After a long, and at times, heated discussion that lasted over two days at the United Nations General Assembly, Bangladesh abstained from a resolution that demanded an immediate ceasefire and that Russian forces withdraw from Ukraine. The vote ended at an overwhelming 141 member nations in support of the resolution out of 193 total. 

Russia is one of Bangladesh’s biggest public and private sector investors. Like many other countries, especially European nations, Bangladesh relies heavily on Russian investment and interference for energy. The country has invested substantially in the energy sector, including financing over 90% of the cost for the Rooppur nuclear power plant.

Furthermore, the RMG industry stagnated by the Covid-19 pandemic received a breath of fresh air after Russia poured in cash. As of 2019, Bangladesh exports almost three-quarters of the world’s jute, and the Russian government has made its intentions clear last year that it will invest in the industry.  

The Bangladesh defense forces are heavily reliant on Russian equipment, especially the Bangladesh Air Force. As of 2021, approximately 45 Russian aircraft are currently in active service, amounting to over a quarter of active aircraft. Local police forces, too, use Russian helicopters for its day-to-day operations. 

It is easy to understand why the Bangladeshi government has yet to speak on the matter; after all, it would be extremely unwise to anger a global power with such a large stake in a small country such as ours. Even more so, after considering the fact that without the Soviet Union, we would most likely still be second-class citizens of Pakistan. But it has not sung its praises, either. 

My stance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, however barbaric it may seem in my opinion, is irrelevant. What is important, however, is the stance of our government. If our government chooses to side with Russia, from a moral and humanitarian standpoint, it would be nothing short of a disappointment.  

From an economic and environmental standpoint, it would not be a surprise. Russia’s investment into our economy has made a substantial difference in graduating from the United Nations’ Least Developed Countries list. We would simply not be a middle-income country without them. Bangladesh, according to a study conducted by Germanwatch, is the ninth most affected country from the impacts of climate change. Without Russia’s investment in the Rooppur nuclear power plant, and their promised investment in a second nuclear power plant, we would not be able to take the fight directly to climate change either. 

But before all that, come our principles as a nation. Bangladesh as a country was founded on the principles of nationalism, socialism, secularism, and democracy. Ukraine is a nation which, after years of struggle with internal and external forces, chose democracy. How can we, as a nation that claims to uphold this core value, a basic right enshrined within our constitution, ignore a blatant and unprovoked aggression against this right? 

If that is not enough, then the events of March 2 surely must be. A Bangladeshi ship, the MV Banglar Samriddhi, was stranded in the Black Sea after the initial Russian invasion on February 24. A week later, on March 2, the ship was the target of a missile launch which killed one Bangladeshi sailor, Hasidur Rahman.

Although UkraineWarReport believes the missile was launched by the Russian aggressors, it cannot be confirmed which side attacked. Regardless, this is Bangladeshi blood unnecessarily spilt as a result of unprovoked Russian aggression to restore a union that has long seen the end of its days.  After all this, how can we expect our government to still stay silent? Our country was once a fledgling nation, but now, Bangladesh is one of the fastest-growing economies of the world. The Bangladeshi voice no longer falls upon deaf ears. 

It seems clear that the Bangladeshi government’s silence is to protect the rapid economic growth that we as a country have achieved in recent years. As a result, we are standing by and watching a nation with the same core values as us be overrun by unprovoked aggression and territorial ambition. Rather than cowering under the blanket of economic security, our government must speak for themselves and express their views.

Aveir Alam is a freelance contributor living in Los Angeles, California.