Dhaka's arms' purchases from Russia Case of the disparate exchange?
The continuation of a progressive historical relationship, or a deplorable departure from history? On January 15 last, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed an agreement in Moscow towards the purchase of weapons' systems from the Russian Federation. Under the agreement Bangladesh reported will buy as much as seven types of arms for the country's infantry including anti-tank missiles, and four types of armoury for the air force, including transport helicopters.
The deal is worth 1 Billion US Dollars and is the biggest of its kind ever clinched by Bangladesh. Given the size of the deal and its large financial implications, it understandably has aroused some controversy in the country's media. Sure this is not the first time Bangladesh has procured weaponry from Russia.
Immediately after the country's liberation war, Russia's precursor had provided the country's young air force with MG-19 fighter planes, and again during the nineties Bangladesh had been supplied with eight advanced MIG-29 fighter planes by Russia. In justifying the recent deal, Dhaka's government has laid much emphasis on the fact that the then Soviet Union had been a loyal ally of the freedom fighters who valiantly fought the Pakistani army in 1971.
Yet is it really correct to see the deal as a continuation of that heroic chapter in Bangladesh's history?
To start, it is essential to emphasize that the defence deal of January 15 does not stand alone, but is a part of twin deals, - one on arms' imports, the other one on the supply of Russian nuclear technology. There is in fact no secret about this, for the nuclear deal on construction of two reactors in Rooppur, Pabna, was also consolidated during Sheikh Hasina's Moscow visit. Yet the international significance of this tie-up needs to be analyzed more deeply, more incisively, than most Dhaka commentators have cared to do so far. For the given type of double-deal is not a common feature of Russia's Cold War strategies, but is a pattern that has been set by the framework nuclear agreement signed … between the United States and India, in 2008. It is largely due to the alertness of Indian dailies that the full scope of the US's intentions behind this framework agreement were revealed.
In September of 2008, Delhi newspapers pointed out that the likely outcome of the deal would not just be 40 Billion Dollars in nuclear orders for Indian and foreign companies. No, the United States through the deal sought to ensure that American armament corporations - until then excluded from procurement orders of the Indian army - would be able to enter the field. When US President Obama visited New Delhi in November of 2010, US companies were reported to have bagged no less than forty percent of all military-commercial contracts signed in the intervening period.
The pattern set by the US-India nuclear agreement has since been emulated by other world powers in their dealings with India, notably by France and Russia, but the design is American nonetheless. Hence to justify the defence deal on grounds that Russia's precursor had been a trusted ally in 1971 seems rather misplaced. But then Dhaka government officials will counter-argue and say that the similarity between US-India dealings and Russia-Bangladesh dealings only brings out Dhaka's acuity in picking up on international trends. Thus it is necessary to dig deeper and look at other aspects of the defence deal, before concluding on its real significance. One financial issue has been raised by the retired brigadier-general Shahedul Anam Khan. He has put the spotlights on the credit which Russia has granted to Bangladesh towards implementation of the 1 Billion Dollar deal.
Apparently the interest rate on the loan has been fixed at 4 and a half percent. Indeed: the burden deriving from repayment obligations has implications for the government's capacity to spend on public health and on other social programs essential towards alleviating poverty. Are the interests of the country's army being prioritized, so one wonders, over those of the population at large and such at a time when Bangladesh is not facing any serious war threat?
The aspect of the defence deal which seems the most questionable though, is that regarding the source to be tapped for financing the deal. At the time of the deal's signing in Moscow, it was the Russian President Putin who openly referred to the tie-up between the arms' sales and the contract which Russia's energy giant Gazprom has signed with Petrobangla towards drilling ten gas wells.
In Bangladesh's media, Putin was quoted as having proudly highlighted Russia's contribution towards increasing Bangladesh's gas production, to 56 million cubic meters of gas per day. The Gazprom-Petrobangla agreement, as well known, was also clinched only recently, in April of last year.
In appearance this is a case where Bangladesh is straightforwardly benefiting from the technical expertise of Russia's global gas giant. Yet in the international press, Russia's combined interest, in selling arms and in helping Bangladesh drill for gas, was interpreted differently. For here Russian officials were seen as confident about Bangladesh's capacity to repay Russia's 1 Billion Dollar loan in view of the country's extensive offshore gas deposits. And while this does not necessarily mean that Moscow is banking on exportation of natural gas by Bangladesh, -- the Russian loan evidently will have to be repaid in international currency. Hence, in the final analysis the defense deal appears to be one more case of 'disparate exchange; i.e. of the international exchange of Northern weaponry against raw materials supplied by countries of the global South.
This latter interpretation is, of course, speculative since the precise financial configuration of the Russia-Bangladesh defense deal has to my knowledge not been stated publicly. However provisionally, it does not seems too far fledged to dismiss the references to Russia's progressive role in supporting Bangladesh's liberation war as pure rhetoric. Sure, Putin must have been happy to be reminded of the past by Bangladesh's Prime Minister. Yet too much water has flown down the Ganges river since to warrant any reference to the Soviet Union's 1971 stance. For not only is the tie-up between the nuclear and the defence deal modeled on the US's 2008 deal with India. The likely mode of financing the deal too is axed on US policymaking, i.e. on policies which the hegemonic power in the world system has pursued ever since the 1970s towards oil-rich countries of the Middle East. Policies which have fuelled conflict and bloody wars throughout the given region. Or am I simply wrong in speculating that the 2013 Moscow-Dhaka defence deal will be repaid with Bangladesh state revenue from extraction of natural gas and oil?
The writer is international columnist for The Daily Star.http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=266759
From Zoglul Husain
The ISPR responds to the criticisms of the $1 bn arms purchase from Russia:
Armed forces bares Russian deal
The Bangladesh Armed Forces in a landmark press briefing on Monday said the terms of the defence loan between Bangladesh and Russia are 'soft enough' and that the procurement plan is part of the continuous process to enhance their ability and respond to the changing trend of UN peace keeping missions.
The Inter Service Public Relations orgainsed the briefing, first of its kind in Bangladesh, to what officials say quench media as well as public curiosity about the agreement which was 'transparent but we cannot make every details due to confidentiality'.
Dhaka and Moscow signed a $1-billion defence deal on Jan 15 during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's maiden official visit under which Bangladesh would procure military equipment and arms from Russia.
The signing triggered media outcry during the premier's visit when a nuclear power agreement was also signed with the world's second-largest weapon exporter.
Principal Staff Officer of Armed Forces Division Lt Gen Abu Belal Mohammad Shafiul Haque at the briefing said the annual interest rate of the loan would be 4.5 percent and the repayment would start from Apr 15, 2018 and end in 10 years in 20 phases.
He said between 2013 and 2017, they would buy all their necessary equipment including anti-tank missiles, armoured personnel carriers and pontoon bridges for the military, and combat-equipped trainer aircraft, helicopter and various others equipment for the air force.
He said the repayment would be made from their annual budget and money they receive as reimbursement for participation in the UN peace keeping mission.
The defence allocation in 2012-2013 was 6.77 percent of the total Bangladesh's budget, while the armed forces earn $250 million as reimbursement from the UN every year.
He said they would repay directly to the Russian government through bank. "There is no middle man in between, so there is no question of commissioning," he said replying to a question.
"We took loan even at more than 4.5 percent interest rate from many other countries for buying equipment," he said without divulging the name of those countries for 'confidentiality' reasons.
He said Bangladesh's laws and policies had been considered, and 'transparency' had been maintained, but "we cannot disclose all due to sensitivity, confidentiality and security."
He said they called the press briefing to reply as many questions as the media would ask them.
"Prime Minister has endorsed the briefing as she advised us to reply all your questions," he said. The briefing continued for nearly 90 minutes.
As questions have been raised from different quarters about the agreement with the Russia in the last year of the government, the Principal Staff Officer said the negotiation continued in the last few years and the agreement was signed 'based on our requirement.'
He said the latest agreement was based on the agreement signed in 1999 under which sharing of experience and training between two countries defence forces had been stressed upon.
He said Bangladesh had inked similar agreements with other 'friendly' countries for buying military equipment considering geo-political and strategic reasons in the interest of the country.
He said as part of the continuous process, the current government in its four years bought 4th generation tank MBT 2000, fighter planes and war ships from 'friendly' China. "Process is still on to buy more."
He, however, did not reveal the total amount of those purchases, but said they did not take any loan. "We have negotiated so that we can pay the amount in seven years," he said.
He said Bangladesh military should be upgraded to keep ready a 'mechanised force' under the Standby Arrangement System for the UN peace keeping missions.
Besides, he said, "We have to maintain security of our Exclusive Economic Zone achieved after resolving the sea boundary dispute with Myanmar."
In response to a query, he said, Bangladesh bought military arms and equipment from China, Russia, US and Ukraine.
Assistant Air Chief Air Vice Marshall Abu Esrar, who was also present at the briefing, said they strongly felt the need for more helicopters.
"We cannot deploy helicopters in the mission, though there is need," he said and that "six helicopters are deployed in Congo right now".
He said they were maintaining Russian equipment 'satisfactorily'.
Maj Gen Abul Matin, Master General of Ordinance, said he had been in the committee, on behalf of the armed forces, formed before the defence deal with Russia.
"We cannot provide in the mission what is really needed. Many of our equipment become outdated," he said citing UN Under Secretary-General Ameera Haq's recent visit when she explained the changing trend of peace keeping mission which was more focused on civilian protections now than before.
Explaining the relationship between Bangladesh and Russia, the officers say it is based on the relations during the 1971 liberation war.
"Due to the then Soviet Union's cooperation, we could open the Chittagong port by freeing water mines and other war scrapes soon after the liberation."
Bangladesh has previously bought M-I 8 helicopters, Mig-29 planes and M-I 171 helicopters from Russia.
The then Soviet Union had gifted eight MiG-21 fighter aircraft in 1972 to war-ravaged Bangladesh that kicked off the military-to-military ties between the two countries.
http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2013/01/21/armed-forces-bares-russian-dealOn Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 2:18 PM, Isha Khan <email@example.com> wrote:
By now, most readers have heard that our PM has returned from Russia with a billion dollars worth of arms and another half a billion dollar worth of technical assistance for a nuclear power plant.
Most readers are also aware that both the arms deal and the nuclear deal are financed by credit. Bangladesh is borrowing the $1.5 billion from Russia. At 5%, the interest is very high for this kind of inter-state deals. More importantly, the pre-feasibility studies for the nuclear plant are being paid by us, when the usual norm is for the party interested in completing the project (Russia in this case) to pay it out of their own pocket.
Meanwhile, what arms are we getting? Anti-tank missiles and tank carrying equipment. These will no doubt supplement the tanks we recently got from China. The thing is, what do we need all these tank warfare arms for?
Bangladesh doesn't have the air transport equipment necessary to take tanks for their peacekeeping training. If we ever fights a war with Myanmar, the principal theatre of operations will be in and through CHT, where tanks can't operate. And against India, the tanks will be of as much use as Saddam's tanks were to him in Desert Storm — nice, fat sitting targets for the IAF. Also, Indians didn't rely on tanks in 1971 because our river delta is not all that conducive for tank warfare.
So, the word on the street — by which I mean facebook and online chats (this is something on which the chattering classes in print media and TV are rather reticent to talk about) — is that these are really toys for our uniformed men so that they don't interfere in some political events scheduled for later this year.http://alalodulal.org/2013/01/20/russia/On Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 1:28 PM, Isha Khan <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:Diplomatic dimensions of Russian arms deal:
The question is, has the PM gone for this deal out of her desire to diversify Bangladesh's source of military supply? Or does this deal have also its diplomatic implications? In these circumstances, has the prime minister carefully weighed up the pros and cons of going for this big spending spree on arms purchase and, that too, on credit from Russia? Is this decision the product of a well-thought-out policy on defence purchase, the existence of which we are not aware of?
We want to believe that on an issue as serious as defence diplomacy, the present government is being driven not by any nostalgia, nor reactively, but out of a clear-cut policy guideline. Otherwise, it is going to a big mess.