The Priority of National Interests and Subtle Wording in Mongolia’s Official Position on the Ukrainian Crisis

The events in Ukraine in 2022, as well as the international and political fallout from them, necessitated cstating its position on the rapidly escalating crisis. The position of this country is sensitive for both Russia and the opposing forces in Ukraine. The opinion of Mongolians is particularly important to Russia because Russia values their partnership and good neighborly relations, and it is also important to representatives of the “anti-Russian camp” because they want to see Mongolia as a “budding democracy” and a “partner of the Western countries” that they have created for themselves.

And hence, Mongolia’s state position stems first and foremost from the country’s central foreign policy task, as articulated in the state’s foreign policy concepts (particularly those of 1994 and 2011). Maintaining the highest level of good neighborly and partnership relations with Russia and China, the two immediate neighbors, while strengthening and deepening relations with Western countries, referred to in this context by the uniquely Mongolian term “third neighbor.” Such foreign policy behavior is consistent with the concept of “balancing a small power,” which exists in Western schools of international relations and aims to reduce the pressure that any of the three power centers can exert on the country. Senior Mongolian officials use the logic of “balancing” to explain their neutral and benevolent stance in the crisis.

In terms of Mongolia’s position on the Ukraine crisis, the “balancing” looks like this: Mongolia abstains from voting on resolutions from UN condemning Russia and expresses its hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, avoiding value judgments as well as the search for “right” or “guilty”

Notably, Mongolia has abstained from voting on all “anti-Russian” resolutions, including A/RES/ES-11/1 “Aggression against Ukraine” (March 2, 2022), A/RES/ES-11/2 “Humanitarian Consequences of Aggression against Ukraine” (March 24, 2022), A/RES/ES-11/3 “Suspension of Membership in the UN Human Rights Council” (April 7, 2022), A/RES/ES-11/4 “Territorial integrity of Ukraine: protection of the principles enshrined in the UN Charter” (October 12, 2022), and resolution A/RES/ES-11/5 “Ensuring reparations and compensation for aggression against Ukraine” (November 14, 2022). At the same time, on December 15, Mongolia voted in favor of adopting the UN General Assembly resolution introduced by Russia on combating the glorification of Nazism, including in the context of the Ukraine crisis. Mongolian representatives on UN justify their “abstention” with the unwillingness of the Russian side to go against the opinion of the international community and with the importance of good neighborly relations with Russia for Ukraine and the states supporting it.

Because of such measures, Mongolia has managed to remain among the countries that have not come under the criticism of the “West,” while it has not once condemned Russian actions.

In this scheme, however, Mongolian politicians leave some room for political maneuvering. For example, despite their position of “benevolent neutrality toward all parties to the conflict,” Mongolian officials note that there are discrepancies in Moscow’s and Ulaanbaatar’s assessments, albeit exclusively in the context of bilateral Russian-Mongolian dialog. In particular, during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Mongolia on July 5, 2022, Mongolian Foreign Minister B. Battsetseg made such a remark (in Russian) about the incomplete convergence of views on global processes. Nevertheless, such details cannot be understood as a criticism of Russia’s actions, but as a certain “negotiating claim” against Russia, implying the exchange of Mongolia’s “benevolent neutrality” for leniency in the field of energy exports from Russia.

The Mongolian government avoids officially discussing or commenting on the conflict, which is an important feature of its stance. Mongolian officials did not make the first official comment on the escalation of the crisis until March 2, 2022. At the time, hope for peaceful negotiations appeared in Russian-Ukrainian relations for the first time, and Mongolia decided to take advantage of the opportunity to express its official position for the first time, which was accompanied by words of support for both parties to the conflict against the backdrop of the negotiation process’s beginning.

The joint statement issued by Mongolian President U. Khürelsükh and Japanese Prime Minister F. Kishida following the Mongolian leader’s November 30, 2022 visit to Japan is an example of the Mongolian authorities’ subtle avoidance of harsh comments on the Ukraine crisis. In it, the parties committed to the principles of the UN Charter, specifically the principles of border inviolability, respect for state territorial integrity, and non-use of force. It is worth noting, however, that the two leaders did not include the principle of “peoples’ right to self-determination” in this list, indicating their respective positions in the crisis. Only one sentence directly mentioned Ukraine: “The parties express their concern about the difficulties and hardships endured by the Ukrainian people” “The parties express their concern about the difficulties and hardships endured by the Ukrainian people”.

Despite all the restraint in Mongolia’s official position on the Ukraine crisis, the country has not stayed away from the humanitarian dimensions of this international problem. On April 4, 2022, Mongolian authorities decided to provide Ukraine with $200,000 “for humanitarian purposes”. The Mongolian government justified its decision by saying that it was complying with the decisions of the UN, which had recently begun providing aid to Ukrainian civilians from its funds. 75% of Mongolia’s aid was channeled to recipients through UN and another 25% through the International Committee of the Red Cross, underscoring Mongolia’s desire to remain neutral in the conflict and to conduct all related activities through international organizations rather than through bilateral agreements with the parties involved. This circumstance of assistance to victims of the conflict through international organizations serves as an excuse for Mongolia’s lack of assistance to another category of victims of the escalating crisis, namely residents of Russian-controlled territories formerly part of the DNR, LNR and Ukraine. Finally, the international organizations prefer not to provide them with aid. In this “asymmetry” of Mongolian aid, one can also see the desire to show solidarity with the position of the “international community” without worsening relations with Russia.

Thus, Mongolia’s national position is committed to the principle of peaceful resolution of conflicts and benevolent neutrality toward the parties involved. It is entirely focused on Mongolia’s foreign policy interests, unobtrusive and evasive, devoid of emotional connotations, and formulated in such a way that Mongolia can, in appropriate situations, express its solidarity with the parties to the conflict through indirect but no less unambiguous hints. In the turbulent world of 2022, where there are still many important actors who are undecided in the contradictions that have already arisen, a small state like Mongolia cannot afford to clearly choose one camp or the other.

Boris Kushkhov, the Department for Korea and Mongolia at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.


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