Suo Yinbu  &  Wu Chuke

After the conflict between Russia and Ukraine broke out, all countries, especially some big countries and developed countries, expressed their views on this incident. Many people consider that the position and attitude of these global powers on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict have a direct influence on this incident. On the contrary, other developing countries are often overlooked by public opinion and the public and people consider that their position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict will not have a direct influence. Mongolia is one of them.

I. Mongolia in Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Although this year marks the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and Ukraine, neither has set up an embassy in the other country, which shows that bilateral exchanges between the two countries are relatively limited.

There are only a small number of Mongolian expatriates living in Ukraine. After the war broke out, local Mongolian citizens moved to neighboring countries. At the end of February, Mongolia suggested that its citizens leave Ukraine.

The Mongolian government did not define the Russian-Ukrainian conflict as “aggression” but expressed it with words such as “military action” and “armed struggle.”

Meanwhile, Mongolia did not condemn Russia, let alone sanction Russia. At the emergency meeting of the United Nations on March 2nd, Mongolia abstained from voting.

Although this result was not unexpected, it also made some Westerners feel skeptical because they thought Mongolia was almost the closest to their values among all countries that abstained from voting.

It can be expected that the enthusiasm of Mongolian media and people for Ukraine is not as high as that of Western countries. After all, it is too far away for most Mongolians.

Recently, western countries have been asking those countries that want to keep a distance from this conflict to “choose a side station,” and some even claim that neutrality is to stand with Russia.

This hegemonic thinking and logic are disastrous for some small and medium-sized countries, such as Mongolia. Russia is indispensable for these countries to meet the needs of western countries in diplomatic language and behavior. This almost impossible task is the reality and dilemma faced by some countries such as Mongolia.

II. Geopolitical Environment Determines Mongolia’s Political Choice

Since democratization, Mongolia’s diplomacy has been inclined to adopt a moderate, balanced, and neutral line. The geographical disadvantage of the country determines this. Mongolia has only two neighboring countries: Russia and China; however, the country is highly dependent on them, especially China.

Most vegetables, fruits, and daily necessities in Mongolia need to be imported from China. At the same time, China is the largest exporter of Mongolia. Due to historical reasons, Mongolians have deep feelings for Russia. In recent years, in opinion polls, Russia has always been regarded as the most trustworthy country, and only a few people negatively view Russia.

In order to seek a breakthrough in geopolitics, Mongolia began to implement the policy of “third neighbor” in diplomacy in the 1990s, that is, to strengthen cooperation with other countries, international organizations, or political forces other than China and Russia.

These countries often share common values with Mongolia and can substantially impact Mongolia and its surrounding areas, such as the United States, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, European Union, NATO. From the long-term political point of view, this policy has indeed played a role in alleviating its geopolitical dilemma.

However, after the outbreak of COVID-19, Mongolia had to rely on two neighboring countries to tide over the difficulties because the help and support from those distant “third countries” were minimal.

In this reality, we can see that the political relations between Mongolia and its “third neighboring country” have not significantly developed in the past few years. The epidemic situation in Mongolia has just improved, and economic recovery and employment promotion still need to rely on Russia and China.

Therefore, it is expected that in the next year or two, unless special events happen, the relationship between Mongolia and its two neighboring countries will not change significantly.

III. Conflicts between National Interests and Values

Many western critics are well aware that Mongolia and Russia have close interests, and it is impossible for Mongolia to give up its national interests for the sake of the West. Almost all of Mongolia’s fuel is imported from Russia.

If Moscow is provoked, the social production in Mongolia will face a severe crisis. Now that Russia is under economic sanctions from many countries, Mongolia has the opportunity to do some political and economic transactions with Russia. After all, Russia needs the support of this seemingly weak neighbor in many aspects.

On February 28th, Mongolia and Gazprom signed a natural gas pipeline project. Although this project has made some countries that support Ukraine feel dissatisfied, for Mongolia, the construction of this project will bring considerable effects to its economic development.

Russia will deliver natural gas to Asian countries through this pipeline, which is of vital importance to Russia, which is suffering from economic sanctions, and Mongolia will also receive various help from Russia.

Even though friendly relations with Russia will bring many substantial benefits to Mongolia, we also have to consider the values of this country. Mongolia became independent from China in 1921, became the second country ruled by the Communist Party in the world in 1925, and began the democratization reform in 1990, which was called “a model of democratization” by some western politicians and media.

Mongolians follow the tradition of the Soviet era in many ways, for example, in terms of culture, Russian letters are still the basis of writing, and the Russian-style diet is still prevalent; Systematically, the medical care and education in Mongolia have not changed much compared with the Soviet period.

However, ideologically, especially the young people, they have accepted the democratic values. They may have a favorable impression of Russia, but they are more interested in European-American politics and institutions. This leads to a severe problem: Mongolia and the West share the same values but have to get closer to Russia, the enemy of the West.

Ⅳ How Far Can “Balanced Diplomacy” Go?

Because of the unique geopolitical environment, Mongolia has chosen a neutral country, which will not be particularly radical on many international issues. In the past 30 years, Mongolia has been trying to find a balance among the international community in order to ensure its stable living environment.

From a certain point of view, Mongolia’s approach is relatively practical. However, after the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, this strategy was challenged as never before. Mongolia is facing the pressure of “choosing a side station.” Interestingly, this pressure may not come from its two neighboring countries but from western powers that claim to be “truth” and “justice.”

In order to balance its relations with Russia and China, Mongolia has long been building cooperation and contacts with countries with similar values, such as the United States, Europe, and Japan.

However, if either the West or Russia asks Mongolia to “choose a side station,” then the “balanced diplomacy” finally established will be in danger of being broken. For countries like Mongolia, subjectively, it is unwilling to get deeply involved in international disputes. After all, this matter has little influence on them, and what can be done is limited. To them, “choosing to stand on the sidelines” means pushing themselves into a diplomatic dilemma.

On the surface, neither the West nor Russia pays much attention to small and medium-sized countries like Mongolia or developing countries because their influence is too limited. However, now it seems that the attitudes and positions of small and medium-sized developing countries like Mongolia are likely to affect future development and global order changes.

** Suo Yinbu isPh.D. candidate at the School of Ethnology and Sociology, Minzu University of China. Suo is also a special research fellow at the area studies research institute of Honghe University.

**Wu Chuke is a distinguished senior professor at the area studies research institute of Honghe University.

*** The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent the position of the institutions.

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