Bangladesh will seek completion of the nuclear plant Moscow is building in the South Asian country during the Russian foreign minister’s first-ever visit to Dhaka, government officials said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is arriving in Dhaka on Thursday ahead of a G20 summit in New Delhi, in a move seen as part of Moscow's efforts to attract allies in Asia following western sanctions after its invasion of Ukraine.
This is the first visit to Bangladesh by a Russian foreign minister since the country's independence in 1971.
"All bilateral issues, including food and energy, will be discussed during the visit but the focus will remain on the timely completion of the nuclear power plant,” said a senior Bangladesh foreign ministry official, who asked not to be identified as he was not authorised to talk to media.
The construction of the plant has been delayed due to two years of restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and war-related sanctions. In December last year, because of U.S. sanctions on Moscow, Bangladesh denied entry to a Russian ship that was carrying equipment for the nuclear power plant.
Both Russia and Western countries are seeking the support of Bangladesh, which has been reluctant to take sides on the war in Ukraine even as it struggles with higher fuel and food import costs.
France's President Emmanuel Macron will also visit Dhaka next week after attending the G20 meeting, aiming to deepen relations with a country experiencing rapid economic growth.
Lavrov will hold a meeting with Bangladesh's Foreign Minister Abdul Momen on Thursday evening and call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday before heading to New Delhi for the G20 leaders’ summit, government official said.
Momen and Lavrov are expected to hold a press briefing after their meeting.
Dhaka has asked Moscow to ensure it uses non-sanctioned ships to deliver equipment for the plant.
Bangladesh is building the first of two nuclear power plants in collaboration with Russian state-owned atomic company Rosatom in a $12.65 billion project, 90% of which is financed through a Russian loan repayable within 28 years with a 10-year grace period.
The first unit of the plant, with a total generation capacity of 2,400 megawatts, was due to start operation in July next year but is facing a setback over loan repayments.
"The plant will be a milestone to ease the power crisis,” said the official.
The visit is also significant amid growing criticism of Prime Minister Hasina's authoritarian rule from the United States and European Union, said another government official.
In July, Russia’s foreign ministry responded by labelling Western demands for a free and fair election in Bangladesh as “neo-colonialism.” (Reporting by Ruma Paul and Manoj Kumar, Editing by William Maclean)