Wednesday, 25 May, 2022

Straight Talk

Russia-Ukraine War and Bangladesh

Abdul Mannan

The war in Europe, fought between Ukraine and Russia, has entered the sixth week and there is still no end in sight in spite of the fact that US and its NATO allies have sabre rattled on a number of occasions to compel Russia to stop the bombing of Ukrainian cities and pull back its troops from Ukraine. US and its allies terms the attack by Russia on  Ukraine ‘invasion’ while Russia terms it as  a measure to protect its security as Ukraine was planning to join NATO which virtually meant that US and NATO forces would be knocking at the door of Russia. Strangely when US invaded Iraq it was termed as ‘liberation’ and beginning with Iraq the actions of US taken with the aid of its allies have completely destabilized the entire Middle East and saw the rise of ISIS. Ukraine was one of the allies of US when the latter invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the centuries Ukraine has fought many battles with very strong powers like the Ottomans or the Byzantines and has won most of them. This is one country in Europe which have shown its resilience when it came to protecting its sovereignty. Since 17th century Ukraine fought number of battles even with Russia, winning some and losing most and in 1919 it finally became a part of the former Soviet Republic. Ukraine again became an independent nation when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. However, still a substantial number of Ukrainians are proud of their Russian ancestry, culture and heritage. Russia, when it went inside Ukraine on 24 February 2022 it perceived that they will wrap up the operation in about seventy two hours. Unfortunately that did not happen even after the lapse of five weeks due to resilience of Ukrainians and according to the experienced war strategists also due wrong battle plan by the Russians and misleading information by Putin’s military advisors. Any war only increases the misery of the common people and the happenings in Ukraine are no exception. Till now more than four million Ukrainians have taken shelter in the neighbouring countries and some have even gone to UK. The military losses on both sides keep on mounting and cities in Ukraine have been systematically destroyed and humanity ruthlessly trampled. In the early stage it was expected that US and its NATO allies would come in aid of Ukraine but it never happened.

The UN held special sessions both of the Security Council and the General Assembly to defuse the situation but to no avail. In the General Assembly a resolution accusing Russia for the war was adopted by majority vote where Bangladesh abstained from voting. Many pundits in Bangladesh, mostly political, criticized Bangladesh for its abstention. Later when another resolution was adopted demanding for protection of human rights in Ukraine Bangladesh voted for the resolution. On last Wednesday, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina clarified Bangladesh’s position during the question answer session in the Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament) and said the first resolution was against a particular country, Russia, accusing it for waging war against Ukraine forgetting the fact that Russia was virtually intimidated to wage the war as Ukraine desired to join NATO. Russia perceived it would compromise its own security.

The UNGA resolution did not mention any of these but only moved a resolution condemning Russia. But the question of trampling of humanity in Ukraine was a different issue. It was the human rights which are in grave danger. Sheikh Hasina also mentioned about the suffering of people in Ukraine and wanted the hostilities in the region to stop without further delay.  Bangladesh’s move, by any count was mature and in the right direction. She also did not forget to mention the role of Russia (former Soviet Union) and US during our Liberation War. While Russia from the very beginning supported the cause of the people of Bangladesh and extended its support both morally and diplomatically in the international arena, the then US’s Nixon administration materially and diplomatically supported the occupation forces of Pakistan and its government. In the final moment when a full-fledged war broke out on 3rd December 1971 between the joint forces of Mukti Bahini and Indian armed forces with the occupation forces of  Pakistan, US along with its allies moved a resolution in the Security Council asking  for a ceasefire, which virtually meant end of  our Liberation War. To the relief of Bangladesh it was again Soviet Union which vetoed the resolution in the Security Council on three different occasions blocking its passing. Seeing the defeat of Pakistani army in the Eastern front was imminent US moved its ship USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier accompanied by nine other ships including a nuclear attack submarine from its Seventh Fleet in aid of Pakistani forces and to counter the Joint Forces of Bangladesh and India. In retaliation the then Soviet Union moved its own fleet from the Mediterranean Sea into the Bay of Bengal. After the war when Bangladesh faced a big food crisis US stopped  shipment of food grains  to Bangladesh on flimsy grounds and it was again the Soviet Union which was  generous in offering food aid, and cleared thousands of floating mines laid to block the Chittagong and Mongla ports by the retreating Pakistan army. The ports became functional in about a year again. But it must be clarified Bangladesh never supported any war anywhere as it knows the woes of wars from its own experience.

In any war mediation between or amongst the fighting countries is a tested option. Usually a third country plays important role in the mediation. Russian President Putin, perhaps sensing a stalemate in this war, wanted to discuss the issue with Ukraine and he opted for Belarus as the host which Ukraine did not agree to. Now Turkey a NATO member country is playing the role of mediator and senior officials from both Ukraine and Russia are taking part but so for no progress is in sight. In the meantime Russian President Vladimir Putin called his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday and said that Russia will stop shelling the important city of Mariupol only when Ukrainian troops surrender there, which as of now is not acceptable to Ukraine. On Thursday Russia unilaterally announced that it will stop bombing Mariupol. However western powers think that it is just eyewash and Russia in the meantime will be regrouping to launch fresh attack on Ukraine. 

The million dollar question what effect the war will bring to the rest of the world. Already US has stopped the operation of SWIFT code in Russia which is used in international transfer of money affecting trade between Russia and other countries of world including US. Germany is greatly dependent for its gas supply on Russia and any time Russia may stop the supply of gas to Germany, an important NATO member and US ally. William E Davis a US analyst on international affairs recently foresaw a major food crisis in near future if the hostilities between Ukraine and Russian do not stop soon. Davis said in US media recently that international sanctions are shutting down the shipment of wheat from the world’s largest producer of wheat, Russia, and Ukraine being the fifth. The Middle East is totally dependent on those sources for wheat and bulk of the wheat and oil seed imported into Bangladesh comes from Ukraine. Even Iran, a net exporter of wheat, is trapped in this cage says Davis as they ship their wheat from Odessa, which is also under attack. Even if the sanctions are lifted on humanitarian grounds to feed people, the ships which normally carry the wheat will not enter the ports in the area as insurance companies would not cover any claim in the war zone. Bangladesh has already lost one ship in the area along with one of its officer.  The war-devastated Ukraine will not be able to plant any crop including wheat for the next few years that will intensify the problem in many countries including Bangladesh.

Needless to say the price of many essentials will rise globally including Bangladesh and Bangladesh’s half-baked politicians will instantly blame the government for the price rise of many essentials. So it is right time for the Bangladesh government to look out for alternatives to avert any big crisis. Russia has already agreed to trade with India in exchange of Rupee and Rouble. Moscow also announced that it will accept Rouble from other countries for exports. But the best option for all parties is to cease hostilities in the region, which also includes aborting plans to expand NATO in Europe which is seen as an unnecessary cause of intimidation and destabilising the region.


The writer is an analyst and a commentator