On 16 December, the new Mongolian president Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh visited Moscow, his first foreign trip since he was elected in June. This visit falls against a backdrop of irritation on the part of the Kremlin, which is upset by increased American zeal in Ulaanbaatar, its traditional ally. Washington has been making no secret of its new status as a member of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) steering committee for the Caucasus, Central Asia and Mongolia Regional Capacity Building Centre (CCAMTAC), and the US has even promised generous funding for this centre. In the face of this American charm-offensive, on 7 December, as Washington was participating in its first IMF steering committee meeting in Almaty, Moscow hastily dispatched its spymaster Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary General of the National Security Council, to the Mongolian capital.
Moscow, Beijing and the Eurasian project
During his Moscow trip Patrushev reviewed points of bilateral security cooperation at great length with his counterpart Zhadambyn Enkbayar, appointed to this post on 25 June. Patrushev, former head of the FSB, the domestic intelligence service, told his interlocutor of the Kremlin’s strong wish for the Russian-Mongolian relationship to be revived, both economically and politically. He also included Beijing in this regional agreement – China’s intelligence services were widely praised by Sergei Narychkin, the head of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence, during an interview given on 15 December to the weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty.
As part of this regional agreement, Ulaanbaatar was also promised renewed support from Moscow for the strategic economic corridor between the three countries. The project is of great structural importance for Mongolia, which is landlocked between China and Russia. It is intended as a replica, on a regional scale, of the huge Chinese Belt & Road Initiative. In addition to the future Soyuz Vostok gas pipeline operated by Russia’s Gazprom, which is backed by the corridor project, the promises of infrastructure – including railways – should attract investors from Moscow and Beijing to Mongolia. At the same time it would further cement the relationship between these two giants that are gradually increasing their cooperation in several areas including their anti-American state narrative.
In addition to these recent visits, the Russian-Mongolian relationship has been boosted in the last fortnight by Olziisaikhany Enkhtuvshin, the country’s former deputy prime minister, being appointed as Mongolia’s ambassador to Moscow.