Russo–Mongolian Relations: Closer than Ever
Russia’s foreign policy under President Vladimir Putin has many former Soviet Bloc nations and formermembers of the Warsaw Pact worried about Moscow’s potential involvement in their domestic affairs. Political elite from Poland to Estonia, from Latvia to Moldova,have spoken out against what they perceive as Moscow’s militarized diplomacy aimed at re-establishing a Russian sphere of influence over states and areas once under the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ (USSR) control. These same elite point to Moscow’s backing of pro-Russian forces in South Ossetia and its annexation of Crimea, in particular, as worrying examples of Moscow’s use of force to secure its strategic interests. States on Russia’s borders—its European neighbours, in particular—have opted to balance against Russia’s behaviour through greater partnerships with Western states, such as the United States, and with Western institutions, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and European Union (EU). Regardless of Moscow’s overall intent and/or motivations, its foreign policy actions have contributed to a more anxious, less friendly periphery.
Mongolia—a former Warsaw Pact member and Soviet satellite state for more than seventy years—is, in this respect, a notable exception. Mongolia’s government (hereafter, Ulaanbaatar) has been reticent in offering criticism of Russia’s activities in Ukraine and pursuant in its quest for strong bilateral ties with Moscow.
Mongolia abstained, for example, from voting for UN resolution A/68/L.39 (‘Calling upon States Not to Recognize Changes in Status of Crimea Region’), which sought to provide direct censure of Moscow’s activities in Ukraine. President Elbegdorj met with President Putin three times during the height of the Ukraine crisis, including once during an official state visit by Putin to Mongolia in September 2014. Rather than sanction Russia’s actions, Ulaanbaatar commissioned a postal stamp featuring Putin’s visage in October 2014. As states such as Georgia and Lithuania are working to limit their vulnerability to Russian involvement through partnership with Western states and institution, Ulaanbaatar is moving in the opposite direction.
At first consideration, Ulaanbaatar’s quiescence in the face of Russia’s current foreign policy is puzzling. Mongolia is just as vulnerable to potential Russian ‘expansion’, justified in historical, cultural, and nationalist terms, as many of Russia’s other neighbours. Mongolia was a satellite state to the former Soviet Union for seventy years and a Warsaw Pact member and, as such, maintains close institutional and cultural ties to Russia.
More importantly, the Buryats in Northern Mongolia are ethnically related to the Buryats in Republic of Buryatia, a federal subject of Russia. The inclusion of Russian ethnic ‘nationals’ in the Mongolian states provides Russia with a justification for intervention in Mongolian domestic affairs in line with that it employed in Georgia and Ukraine. While Moscow has given no indication it has any intention toward Mongolia other than respect for its sovereignty, the conditions for Russian involvement in Mongolia do exist according to precedent.
On further consideration, however, one can discern three primary drivers behind Ulaanbaatar’s cooperative foreign policy direction toward Russia. First, in contrast to former Soviet Bloc states in Europe that have been moving closer to the EU in recent years, Mongolia has spent the last decade actively strengthening its ties with Russia across a range of sectors. Second, cooperation between the two states is developing for Mongolia in ways that allow it more room for manoeuvre within its largely confining regional geographic position. Third, Russia has re-emerged as an important partner to balance China; a state on which Mongolia is increasingly, and uncomfortably, dependent. As such, Mongolia has little to gain from censuring Russia’s foreign policy.
By Jeff Reeves, Honolulu
For more: http://www.css.ethz.ch/publications/pdfs/RAD-161.pdf