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Dhaka Tribune

A stand on Crimea

Update : 18 Apr 2014, 07:48 PM

In the very recent past, Bangladesh’s refraining from voting on a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Russia’s occupation of the Crimea peninsula has raised some questions among the people on whether or not Dhaka’s decision on abstention from voting was decisive and right. The resolution which has been passed with 100 votes in favor, 11 opposed, and 58 abstentions, represents the world general opinion that Russia’s seizure of Crimea is illicit and an egregious infringement of international law.

Russia is happy with Bangladesh’s abstention because it may perhaps consider abstention by its friendly nations like Bangladesh as mute support for its actions in the Crimean peninsula. However, it ought to be recalled that kinship between Bangladesh and Russia is not anything new.

Russia (the then Soviet Union) was one of the few countries which Bangladesh had found in time of need during the liberation war. It was a world with two-recognised superpowers: the US and the USSR, when Bangladesh found latter as an ally. But the fall of communism in 1990 resulted in the collapse of USSR. So, now it would be wrong to equate the present-day Russia with the then USSR, as time and situation have both changed. However, irrespective of Russia’s position in the 21st-century world, Bangladesh ought to cooperate with her and other friendly nations on all issues, complying with international law and moral righteousness.

Bangladesh should have crystallised its stand on the Crimea episode as it is now one of the most burning issues of international politics. What it has done vis-à-vis the resolution is now being interpreted in different ways by different countries. While Russia is happy with Bangladesh’s abstention, the US regrets it. Some argue that Bangladesh has done the right thing refraining from voting on the issue.

Yes, Bangladesh’s foreign policy is based on the principle of “non-interference” in the internal affairs of other countries. But the policymakers of Dhaka ought to empathise in the right way with the Crimea crisis, which is no longer confined within Ukraine only, but affects interests and policies of other countries beyond the region.

Russia tried to legalise its occupation of the island calling it “reunification,’’ and saying it was for the protection of the ethnic Russians in Crimea. Nevertheless, Russia’s action in Crimea is a flagrant violation of international law.

Things do not end there. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the possession of the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world by Ukraine left it with a strategic decision on whether to return the weapons to Russia, or to become a nuclear weapon state itself. Ukraine’s possessions of nuclear arsenals vexed the US, the UK, and Russia a great deal, as at the time it had the potential to challenge their territorial integrity.

Ukraine agreed to forfeit its nuclear activities in return for a solemn commitment by the US, the UK, and Russia to protect her territorial integrity and sovereignty, and signed Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) and Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1992 and 1994 respectively. As these were the agreements, Russia had now not just violated the pledge, but undermined the international legal frameworks for preventing nuclear proliferation.

Russia’s subversive behaviour towards international legal frameworks and territorial integrity of an independent country must be condemned. However, Bangladesh, which is a big name in UN peacekeeping operations throughout the world, could have very manifestly shown respect towards international law, and should have helped the friendly nation of Russia frankly understand that what she is doing in Crimea are misdeeds, simply by casting a vote in favour of the UN resolution.

Doing that does not necessarily show malice towards a friend. Even Bangladesh has a history of telling its friendly nations when they are wrong. It was unhappy when the friendly nation of Soviet Union invaded another friendly nation – Afghanistan in 1979. Another instance may be Bangladesh’s vote against Iran when some Iranian students and soldiers seized the US diplomatic mission in Iran in 1979.

Bangladesh’s relations with the US and the EU are far greater than that with Russia on issues like counterterrorism, trade, and immigration. The US and the EU are two major destinations for Bangladesh’s RMG products. However, the RMG sector is now undergoing some hassle due to the cancellation of GSP facility by the US on grounds of poor safety and working conditions of workers. Consequently, Bangladeshi exporters are now to pay a 15.3% duty to enter the US market, which might be a factor in contracting the country’s national income.

So, now Bangladesh’s pressing need is to come closer to the US so as to restore the GSP facility. A vote in favour of the resolution and hence joining the majority on the issue could have facilitated the way for Bangladesh not only in retrieving the GSP facility, but to secure other national interests and to warm up relations of the current Hasina regime with the US and the West.

However, it is not surprising that the current regime of Bangladesh would not do anything that contradicts Russia’s interest as the regime has very warm ties with Russia. Nonetheless, policymakers should bear in mind that securing only the highest national interests – not regime interests – can make a regime successful. 

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