My Memories of the Soviet Union and Ukraine-Russia War

The article was first published in Bengali ‘Weekly Seven Days’ Magazine in April 2022 and that was based on Dr. Rafiqul Islam’s write up on the war in the daily ‘Bangladesh Protidin’ on 2nd March 2022, and also in the daily ‘Dainik Samachar’ on 13th and 26th March, 2022. This is the English version of these write ups written during the first days of the war –Dr. Rafiq shared its translation with on request (edited for clarity purposes):

Dr. Rafiqual Islam: Having received a scholarship for higher education in the Soviet Union, I was fortunate to visit many cities in that country. After my first visit to Moscow in 1974, I was sent to Azerbaijan Red Banner Order Institute of Petroleum and Chemistry in Baku for higher education in Petrochemical Engineering. In the former Soviet Union, the best educational institutions were honored and recognized with the flag of the Order of the Red Banner. At that time, this flag was only in six educational institutions. Currently, the name of this educational institution is Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University, which has had international reputation. During the winter and summer vacations, the institute’s authority used to organize educational tours for foreign students to different cities of the Soviet Union. We used to visit those cities for about a week and also the neighboring countries- Poland, Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania. We even visited Paris, London, Rome. Not once, but several times. Those beautiful days are not to be forgotten. I also had the opportunity to vacation for a month in Crimea, then part of Ukraine on the shores of the Black Sea. This is where the peace treaty was signed by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin -after World War II. World War III may start from there today! I have also visited Kiev, Kharkov cities in Ukraine.

Once I went there to attend the All-Soviet Bangladesh Students Association Conference as the President of the Bangladesh Students Organization in Azerbaijan. Kiev is a beautiful city. If we talk about development, what we saw almost 50 years ago could be compared with any European city. As President of Bangladesh Students Organization in Baku, I also had the opportunity to attend the All Soviet Bangladesh Students Union Conference in the second biggest city of USSR- Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg). At that time Moscow was known in USSR as the World Capital. City of paradise! So clean, neat and tidy, developed with cultural heritage, that it was in line with the best cities in the world. At that time, Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Baku, Tbillisi were the most developed cities in USSR. Very beautiful, clean with cultural heritage.

I had special respect and attention from not only my institute administration but from the Ministry. Even the former President of Azerbaijan Aliev Hayder Alievich, who is called the Father of the Nation, knew me personally. Rector of the institute- Academician Ibragimov Ismail Alievich, who was the First Deputy Prime Minister of Azerbaijan prior to joining the institute as Rector, knew me personally. All people there including all foreign students and Bangladeshi students loved and respected me so much that now I realize that that was the best part of my life I may call the golden days. Besides, I had two great occasions to visit Moscow officially when I had participated in the Russian Language Olympiad and also in the Olympiad of Young Scientists held in Moscow, in both of which I was the Winner and the only Bangladeshi. I was given Certificates-Diplomes and Prizes by the then Minister of Education USSR Dr. V. P. Elutin, saying: “you must utilize your outstanding wisdom for the development of your country.” Perhaps due to this reason, having had so many attractive offers, I did not go to settle abroad, even having scholarship from the University of California at Berkeley, as I knew, if I would go there and I would not want to come back and serve my motherland, which is what I aimed at. Though, I did not get any recognition of such sacrifice.

At this moment I am feeling too bad both for Russia as well as Ukraine. Because, had Soviet Union not stood beside us during our war of liberation, Bangladesh may not have existence in the world map. If USSR had not given veto in the Security Council and had the Soviet Fleet not followed the 7th Fleet of USA, it was practically impossible to be liberated in such a short time. As, at that time, almost the whole world- USA, Western World, whole of Arab World, China, all were against the separation.

Soviet Union gave the scope to get higher education of hundreds and thousands of highly meritorious students from abroad with scholarships, which had no comparison. Only in Baku, the University where I had studied, students from 65 countries of the world were fortunate enough to get free education, accommodation, medical treatment, food and everything free. From Bangladesh, thousands of meritorious students were awarded with such scholarships. During the days of the cold war, having had lot many sanctions imposed upon Soviet Union by the USA and the Western World, Soviet Union did not care for that and awarded scholarships to thousands of students all over the world for free education, research, free medical treatment and everything. What I have seen that only Soviet Union and Japan have extended helping hands without seeing their own interest. Yes, it is true that everybody, every country sees its own interest while helping others and that is natural. A friend can however be judged only in difficult period.

When we studied in the Soviet Union, we were taught the history of the Soviet Union. Learnt: “War can sometimes be justified when it is done in the interest of the country, for the sovereignty of the country, or may be unjustified, when it is done as a sacrifice for greed and personal interest or conspiracy.” Now we can judge whether this war was really logical.

I wrote to President Joe Biden several times on Facebook in the days leading up to this war. I felt that a war is imminent and this war will bring terrible consequences for the whole world, which came out of President Putin’s mouth almost two weeks later on the day the war started: “Whoever tries to hinder us and even more so, to create threats to our country, to our people, should know that Russia’s response will be immediate. And it will lead to you such consequences that you have never encountered in your history.” That is, it portends World War III.

I wrote to President Biden: “You would be making a grave mistake if you were to consider making Ukraine join NATO now. This should have been done eight years ago. Putin won’t accept it now, and for good reason. You understand that very well. Even you wouldn’t accept it. Russia is a superpower. You may have gotten provoked by some, but you are intelligent enough. You don’t listen to anyone’s persuasion. What is the need for further expansion of NATO? Extravagance never brings anything good. You should leave these thoughts aside and think about your country’s social security, public health insurance policy, public transport system, students and common man’s welfare. Think about the habitat. Germany and Russia are in a better position than your country in these arrangements. Paying attention to these domestic areas will increase the acceptance of America globally, and America will be the best country in the world. You will be awarded the Nobel Prize.” But who listens to whom? The war started. Everyone expected Kiev to fall on the fourth day. But it didn’t.

They (Ukrainians) are a nation that fought against Hitler’s forces. The Statue of Motherland located in this city of Kiev, which is bigger than America’s Statue of Liberty, bears the signature of heroism of the Soviet Army in the World War II.

Ukrainian President Zelensky was a comedian. He may have won the hearts of many people of the world with his comedy. He did not emigrate like the Afghan president. But what is the outcome? The entire country has turned into ruins today due to conflict and war. Zelensky was born in a Jewish family and was supposed to study in Israel. He got a scholarship, but his intelligent father did not allow him to study in Israel -thinking about his future, and so he studied in Ukraine. Apart from that, Ukraine ranks third in the world in the number of Jews, and as far as I know, the number of Jews in the cabinet, including the president, is not low. So I don’t know what is behind all that’s happening. I personally have no hatred for Jews. I like and value good people of any religion or even without. To the patriot History may tell everything.

Now I come to the point on Russia-Ukraine War and NATO. War can never be a solution and Russian aggression against a sovereign country like Ukraine can’t be supported. Though according to Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson of the Russian Foreign Ministry, NATO has no right to call it Russian Aggression against Ukraine.

According to the World renowned American Philosopher Noam Chomsky: “Russia has been provoked to this war. He also says that in 1990 after the collapse of Soviet Union, Michael Gorbachev facilitated Germany to join NATO and it was a decision: “NATO will not extend further an inch  to the east.”

Three times U.S. Senator, Winner of the Olympic Gold Medal Bill Bradley, who was a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States in 2000; said in 2008: “Expansion of NATO is a fundamental blunder.”

In 1997, 50 U.S. experts on Foreign Policy sent an open letter to President Bill Clinton stating: “America’s effort to expand NATO- a policy error.”

George Frost Kennan, an American diplomat and historian and best known as an advocate of a policy of containment of Soviet expansion during the Cold War commented on the NATO expansion: “I think it’s a tragic mistake, there was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threaten.”

According to Strack Talabat, US’s former Deputy Secretary of State:  “Many Russians see NATO as a vestige of the cold war. They point out that they have disbanded the Warsaw pact and ask why the West should not do the same.”

NATO was formed after the World War II, in 1949 by the military alliance of the USA and 12 countries of Europe to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. 

DW German News says:

February 1990: The USA, The USSR and the Leaders of the Western World had an open discussion that if the Soviet Union agrees upon Unification of Germany and joining Germany in NATO, NATO will not expand an inch to the east.

February 9, 1990: US Secretary of State James Baker said: “We understand that not only for the Soviet Union but for other European countries as well it is important to have guarantees that if the United States keeps its presence in Germany within the framework of NATO, not an inch of NATO’s present military jurisdiction will spread in an eastern direction.”

February 10, 1990: German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said: “We believe that NATO should not expand its scope. We have to find a reasonable resolution. I correctly understand the security interests of the Soviet Union.”

July 1, 1991: Secretary General of NATO Manfred Woerner said: “The NATO Council and he are against the expansion of NATO (13 out of 16 NATO members support this point of view). We should not allow, stated M.Woerner, the isolation of the USSR from the European community.”

September, 1990: in the Helsinki Summit Bush gave a proposal to Gorbachev: “If Germany joins NATO then NATO will not expand an inch to the east. There would be no new members”.

But now America is not recognizing that. Even if many meeting minutes, documentary evidences kept in the US Archives, support that.

In 1991 Gorbachev at the end of the tenure of his Presidentship, dissolved the Warsaw Pact and hoped that NATO will also be dissolved. Here a very vital question arises: How come Gorbachev broke the Soviet Union, accepted Bush’s proposal of joining Germany in the NATO so that NATO would not expand an inch to the eastward without signing any legal document! Further he dissolved the Warsaw Pact at the end of his tenure as General Secretary of the USSR and he was immediately awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But what was the secret behind it? I think it should be clear to the world community now.

Now let us see in reality what happened to the NATO after joining Germany in NATO.

1999: The Check Republic, Hungary and Poland joined NATO.
2004: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, RomaniaSlovakia, and Slovenia  joined NATO.
2009: Albania and Croatia joined NATO.
2017:  Montenegro and North Macedonia joined NATO.

At the moment the USA and 30 countries of Europe are Members of the NATO.

Besides, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine; even Sweden and Finland are also running to get the membership of the NATO. Most of the countries of Eastern Europe are now Members of NATO, who were once with the Soviet Union or in that block.

In 2007 in the Munich Annual Conference Putin said: “NATO has put its frontline forces on our borders. This expansion represents a serious provocation that reduces the level of mutual trust. And we have the right to ask against whom this expansion intended? And what happened to the assurances our western partners made after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact?”

Putin Government wanted a legal confirmation from NATO that the NATO would keep his word and will not expand an inch to the east. But when NATO failed to give this assurance and watching Zelensky Government’s activities and also by the provocation of the Western World, Putin got annoyed and as a result this aggression was made by Putin.

Now I think we need to realize who is to blame for this war.

I can’t simply understand the role of the Western Media. When America attacked Iraq, it came out in the news media that Saddam had lot of weapons of mass destruction and as a result a historical country of rich civilization was totally destroyed. But afterwards, nothing was found. And the world remained silent!

Even when Bush attacked Iraq, The Economist Magazine, giving a beautiful photo of Bush in the cover page gave heading: “Now the waging for peace.” On the other hand, now when Putin attacks Ukraine, the same magazine gives a black photo of Putin with tank in the head in the cover page giving heading: “Where will he stop?” This is Western Media.

When in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and many other countries, the casualties done by the US forces, where remains the UNO and the Commission for Human Rights and the International War Criminal Courts, who became very active now against Russia? How the Palestine people are suffering for decades after decades, none to see that. According to Zelensky: In the war between Israel and Palestine, Israel is the victim. In 2019 when Israel killed Palestinian child, Zelensky commented: Israel can do that to defend. Zelensky gave weapons to general mass, to the jail criminals to fight against the mighty Russian forces. Think practically how wise this decision has been! Senior Adviser to the Defense Minister of Trump Col.  Douglas McGray said: The Ukrainian Army is using general mass as shield.

President Zelensky approached to the Western World to declare No-Fly zone in Ukraine. I do not know whether he did that knowing its consequences or not or just having been provoked. Good that intelligent President Joe Biden did not give positive response to that. Again he wanted War Planes from the Western World and Poland showed interest to supply Mig-29 to NATO so that NATO take the responsibility to send them in Ukraine. What a great thought! Good that NATO refused that. Joe Biden here also played a good role. He did not want to go in direct war with Russia. As that would lead to World War III. But it is true that the Western World have sent huge military weapons to Ukraine, which had brought severe destructions to Ukraine. As more weapons come from the West, Russian forces become more aggressive. More destructions and casualties. There are thousands of Western Military Experts in Ukraine. According to the Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna, NATO is also responsible for the bloodshed in Ukraine. Zelensky also said that NATO will be responsible for my death and death of every Ukrainian soldier. Do not understand why such statements when Ukraine is not a Member of the NATO.

Now, as mentioned,  even if NATO is not directly involved in the war but assisting Ukraine by providing latest war weapons to fight against Russia. Have given sanctions against Russia that world have not seen before. But we ought to know that Russia is a very resourceful country. Most of Europe depend on the import of petroleum and gas from Russia. So these sanctions will not only affect Russia but whole world will be affected. I remember, during the cold war in the 70’s America and the Western Europe had given almost similar sanctions against the USSR. At that time the Soviet Union did not even have friendly relationship with China, as it is now. Then the Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev said: “None will be able to weaken Soviet Union. Our people will not eat a gram of food less due to these sanctions.” And it happened so. Price of nothing went up. From 1974 until 1985 I have seen that rice was sold at 88 Kopeek/kg, beef 2 Rouble/kg and price of everything remained same. But now their social system has been changed. Its impact will definitely be there. Though the Press Secretary of President Putin Dmitry Sergeyevich Peskov said: “Russia does not care for it. World is not comprised of the USA and the Europe only. There is a greater world outside of the NATO. Russia would now respond to these sanctions imposed upon her.” Had the Western World not supplied with the latest military weapons, Ukraine could not have continued this war even for a week and then there would not have been so much casualties and destructions. The world situation would not have been so alarming. In the Russian State television it has been said: “President Putin’s special operation in Ukraine is taking so long is because “the country has entered `WW3’-Fighting against NATO infrastructure, if not NATO itself.”

Now Zelensky is telling that Ukraine will not join the NATO. If he would have said it two months ago then there would not have been such war. Today the reason for which Putin is fighting, any other Statesman would have done the same, ofcourse if he/she had the patriotism. Otherwise, he/she might have been sold and such leader is being looked for now replacing Putin. Spending billions of dollar it is not impossible to discover such kind of leadership. It is possible to utilize own people of the country. How fast the fall of Imran Khan Government had taken place! There is pressure on India. Pressure on Sheikh Hasina and her Government is also there. But due to good economic condition of Bangladesh, strong leadership and people’s support still nothing could be done. It is very unfortunate that in the UN General Assembly Meeting, countries cannot make their own decision. There is always external pressure. What kind of world management is this?

What America is doing now is nothing good for the world and even for their own people. Totally based on wrong policy. May be for weapon business and with a vision to ultimately destroy Russia and the Europe and the rising economy China and dominate the World. But do not think that such plan would be fruitful. Such devastating plan of USA may ultimately lead America to collapse. I do not understand why almost all the Presidents of America have such sick mentality! They say big big words of democracy, humanity and on the other hand destroyed Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, Yemen, Vietnam. Even people of Japan are still suffering by the effect of Atom Bomb, when dropping of such bombs of mass destruction was absolutely not necessary at the eleventh hour of the war.

Humankind have to find the truth. By the propaganda of the Western media, Zelensky has become a hero and Putin villain. But can we realize that it’s due to Zelensky that a beautiful country Ukraine has been destroyed. How the people are suffering there? But the Western Media is very powerful. President Joe Biden is telling: Putin is a war criminal. He should have trial in the International Court.  Question is: who gives trial of whom? Then how many Presidents of America and Israel would go for trial? Whether Zelensky should face the trial and even Gorbachev, who destroyed the world balance of Power, the conscious people of this world need to give a thought. The world can’t run in this way. Need to be reshaped. The United Nations Organization was created after the World War II for the benefit of mankind. But question arises: Is the United Nations functioning properly and neutrally? We stand for a peaceful world, not dominated by crooked world leaders. Persons like Jimmy Carter, Angela Merkel, Helmut Kohl were needed at this moment.

This war might bring the end of the Western World of their military and economic supremacy. Bangladesh Government having had much external pressure until now have taken the right decision to maintain neutrality. We want peace and stability in this world. Let the Ukrainian people again come back to their home and live peacefully in their beautiful land. Realization should come to the World Leaders. We are spending billions and billions of dollar to find life in other planets and on the other hand, spending trillions of dollars to kill lives in our own planet. In what a civilized world we are living!

Dr. Rafiqul Islam is the former Dean, Faculty of Engineering & Technology, University of Dhaka, He’s President, Alumni Association of German Universities in Bangladesh; President, Bangladesh Association of Commonwealth Scholars & Fellows, and a Columnist. Email: [email protected]

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