1. The government of Bangladesh is considering the establishment of a special economic zone for Russia. Will it be possible for Bangladesh to become a hub for Russian goods in the South Asia region?
The government of Bangladesh is serious about our relationship. Relations between Russia and Bangladesh were established during our national liberation campaign: the Soviet Union promoted our interests at the UN in 1971. There was a decline, however, following the assassination of our President Mujibur Rahman. But in 1996, when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a daughter of Mujibur Rahman, came to power, she renewed the relations with Russia. Later in 2000, when she lost the election, there was a decline again, but in 2009 we saw a fast recovery, mutual visits and so on.
Russia and Bangladesh have special relations and we seek to create a special economic zone for Russian businessmen, share technologies, and build a technopark. We have special zones for Korea, China, Italy and Japan in Bangladesh. Why can’t we create the same environment for Russia? This is our special focus.
2. What does the government of Bangladesh undertake to attract foreign investment?
Our country is a major destination for foreign investments. This means that any businessman, who invests money in Bangladesh into goods for export, will not need to pay any taxes during the next 10 years and can withdraw all his profits through the bank without any problems and bureaucracy. That’s why I think we can offer an advantage for investors.
With a population of 160 million people, Bangladesh has a huge potential for any businessman. Apart from the enormous domestic market, goods can be exported. Since Bangladesh is on the list of least developed countries, we have duty free trade regime with more than 30 countries under the WTO. It’s also an advantage for those investors who will produce their goods on the territory of Bangladesh.
3. What projects are most promising in terms of mutual investments?
The energy sector holds the biggest potential for our mutual investments. Almost half of the population in Bangladesh has no direct access to electricity and we have to fix it. Secondly, the development of industry is impossible without energy. That’s why we do need more investments in this sector. I think that our countries will have a special solution in the energy sector very soon. Currently, some of the old power stations built in the 1970s by the Soviet Union are under reconstruction.
Moreover, we have great opportunities in IT and communications sector. For example, Beeline has already made an investment. It bought a company and is already operational. I think that the number of opportunities will expand.
We also have great opportunities in terms of infrastructure development where Russia can take part in different international projects financed by international banks. Bangladesh is building a lot of connections between its regions. There is a lot of unlocked potential here.
We can also invest to healthcare. People are ready to pay for treatment, most of them go to neighboring countries in Asia like India or Singapore. Some go to England. We could have great opportunities in this field.
In education, we can set up joint universities or campuses.
Tourism is also of great importance because Bangladesh is located on the Bay of Bengal with a natural beach of 125 km. Russian businessmen could build a special zone there for tourists from Russia and the CIS.
4. Tell us about the Rooppur power plant, which is a joint project with Rosatom. What are the main goals? Why did Bangladesh choose Russia as a partner in the construction of a power plant?
In 2013, during our prime minister’s first visit in 40 years we concluded a loan agreement worth US $1.5 bn between Russia and Bangladesh. Her father came in 1973 and she came in 2013, exactly 40 years later. It’s the first major investment in the history of Bangladesh. We attach great importance to it. It is not a simple loan agreement, rather a strategic project: you must have trust in order to pass nuclear technologies to a third party. I think that Russia and Bangladesh do have such a relationship.
5. How did Bangladesh manage to resolve its territorial disputes with India peacefully?
I think that it’s a unique example in the world practice as this problem existed since the creation of Pakistan, when there were East and West Pakistan. The East Pakistan territory is present-day Bangladesh. After gaining independence in 1971, Bangladesh wasn’t able to resolve its problems because of constant regime changes. But thanks to the peaceful diplomacy of Sheikh Hasina we have not had any conflicts for some time. We resolved this issue through dialogue, negotiations, and peace. And I think it is a good example for other countries of how territorial issues can be resolved peacefully. The situation was unique in that it was not just a border issue but there were also enclaves. But again the issue was resolved.
6. Why have you installed a monument to Pushkin in Dhaka?
It was my idea. I think that people to people diplomacy is of great importance. Pushkin has nothing to do with politics, he is a Russian poet, someone who can help in promoting the Russian language. Many of my compatriots studied in Russia, and poetry unites everyone. Everybody in our country reads Pushkin; he was translated into the Bengali language. Sure there are translations into English, but there is also translation into my native tongue, and it is of great importance.
I think that this monument will help to unite both our intellectuals and ordinary people. It was unveiled at the University of Dhaka, in the building where is the university’s head is situated.
And I’ll tell you a secret: Gagarin is next. We have already placed an order for his monument and will soon receive it. We have a planetarium and the Rosatom center is there, too. People can come there and get acquainted with its operations. This is where the monument will be located.
A monument to Tolstoy would also be a great idea. It will serve its purpose for centuries. The next generation will look at it and inquire about his background and works.
7. How are cultural relations developing between Russian and Bangladesh?
We have an intergovernmental agreement that says that one year Russian cultural events are held in Bangladesh, and the next year we hold our cultural events in Russia. It means that we have a full cultural relationship. A year ago, a large cultural delegation visited Moscow, they spent three days there and one day in St. Petersburg.
We have a Russian cultural center, where they teach the Russian language, show Russian films about World War II, historical films. I think that Russian films themselves are a world masterpiece. The more Russian films we see, the more we know about Russian culture, its people and their lives. We also take part in film festivals here, so Russian people can learn something about our country.
8. What is common in the mentalities of our nations and what is different?
Our mentalities are different, but we also have much in common. I think that the Russian mentality is more Asian. Like us, they are very concerned over chaos and injustice elsewhere in the world. Each country has its own particular features, but we have more in common despite the differences in our languages, religions, and geography. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’ve studied here, but I think that we can always find points of convergence through dialogue.
9. Is Dhaka very different from Moscow in terms of traffic jams and queues on public transport?
I think that traffic jams in Dhaka can’t be compared to those in Moscow. In Moscow cars at least move while in Dhaka you just stay still for a long time. I mean that you can sit in your car without movement for hours.
10. What are your favorite places? Are they somewhere in Europe or in Asia?
I do like the Moscow Region, for example Zavidovo. I have many friends there. Me and my friends come there to rest. I also like to have stay in Vienna, Austria.
I think that there are many beautiful places in Russia. And while you are in Russia, you have to use this opportunity to see more, to get acquainted with historical places. Recently, I went to Veliky Novgorod. I found out for myself that Riurik was there, and it is the origin of Russian history, it is very interesting. In St. Petersburg each house and each brick is history itself. Its architecture is unique and the people are different there. When you come there you feel that St. Petersburg is more quite. And Moscow is a crazy city. In my opinion Russia itself is a very exciting country. But Moscow is a definitely special city that needs to be discovered.