Guest Post: Russia and Mongolia on the Eve of the Eastern Economic Forum 2021

By Alexey Mikhalev

Despite the fact that the world is still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, every day it is becoming more relevant to hold major forums focusing on economic recovery. From 2 to 4 September 2021, another Eastern Economic Forum will be held in the Russian city of Vladivostok, previously canceled due to the 2020 pandemic. Along with delegations from China and France, guests from Mongolia are expected to arrive. Pres. U Khurelsukh won a landslide victory in the presidential elections in June 2021. Now everyone hopes that he and his team will announce the prospects of cooperation with Russia and other countries of the Asia-Pacific region at the forum. What will it be about?

This year, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) celebrates its 20th anniversary. Mongolia is still an observer there. It seems that the new president can also outline new prospects for cooperation with the SCO. It is obvious that the current format has outlived its usefulness. It’s apparent that relations Mongolia and SCO have long since grown into something more, but they do not receive any formal recognition. Whether U Khurelsukh can maintain the previous vector of relations with the SCO, whether he declares the need for closer cooperation or refrains from commenting – this is one of the intrigues of the forum. It is not obvious that Pres. Khurelsukh will change the vector of SOC policy but Moscow expects him to make this move.

In 2021, the two oldest Marxist parties in Asia celebrate their centenary, the Chinese Communist Party and the Mongolian People’s Party. Their influence on the development of the Asian region is undeniable; therefore, their historical experience is important for Russia as the successor to the USSR. Besides, the year 2021 is the centennial of the establishment of Russian-Mongolian diplomatic relations. This date is commemorated with numerous conferences and forums held throughout the year.

In these conditions, the presence of the Mongolian delegation at the Eastern delegation would be highly welcome.логичным продолжением юбилейных торжеств.

Vaccine diplomacy

Of course, the most important topic will be events related to the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the world. It is important for Russia to support and build on the success of its vaccines, so it will be interesting to discuss the Mongolian experience, a multivariate vaccination option has been chosen there. Mongolians have been vaccinated with almost all presently known vaccines. This is a unique situation that makes it possible to assess the advantages and disadvantages of vaccines. All this takes into account the Asian specifics, that is, mutations of the virus into regional strains. Vaccines have become a key factor in so-called vaccine diplomacy. They are not the only topic that has become relevant against the backdrop of the pandemic. Unexpectedly, questions, that are seemingly forgotten, may be added to the agenda. For example, the memory of Soviet doctors who fought epidemics in Central Asia.

We should not forget about vaccine diplomacy: Russia is interested in the promotion of Sputnik-V vaccine. Its creation was not only an act of supporting state prestige but also a contribution to struggle against the pandemic. Today, Sputnik-V is used in a number of countries including Mongolia, therefore it would be very interesting to know a consolidated opinion about the vaccine at the Eastern Economic Forum.

Power industry and economics

On June 1, 2021, Russian and Mongolian ministers of foreign affairs met to discuss the development of economic relations. Economic sphere is one of the most complex issues at the moment since the pandemic caused a crisis. It is possible to solve this crisis only if mutual efforts are taken. Therefore, economic matters were so thoroughly discussed at the meeting in Moscow. Also, the meeting in Moscow opens a number of further perspectives for other events at various levels. As for the topics for discussion, there is a number of them, and power industry is the most important.

The topic of hydropower appears relevant as well. Many stakeholders in the region are concerned about it. It is not known whether the Mongolian delegation is going to address this issue. But the Russian side should be ready. This is a sensitive issue, especially in the context of water conflicts in Central Asia. On one hand, this is about resource nationalism that strives to provide the national economy with national electricity; and on the other hand, the concerns balancing the ecological system of Lake Baikal.

Russia’s position here is to avoid using water resources in the conditions of abundance of alternatives sources of energy. For example, Mongolia has ideal conditions for solar energy generation. One of the panels at the Eastern Economic forum will be devoted to carbon-free economy. This topic is very important for Mongolia, an importer of carbohydrates from Russia and a country seeking energy independence. However, Mongolian Foreign Minister B Battsetseg said in her interview devoted to the centennial anniversary since the establishment of diplomatic relations that Mongolia would like to continue hydropower cooperation with Russia. An important component of the energy topic will be the discussion of Power of Siberia pipeline and its Mongolian section Soyuz Vostok. These topics were discussed at the meeting of foreign ministers and, undoubtedly, these topics remain important and can be included into the agenda of the Eastern Economic Forum.

Eastern Economic Forum is a place to discuss the future. In particular, it is a place to discuss the architecture of Asian Pacific regional order. Of similar importance is the future of digital policy, and this topic is to become one of the discussed topics. Mongolia’s position in all aforementioned topics in contemporary conditions is very important.

The challenges above are the most important to Russian-Mongolian relations. In fact, there are many more of them — the only question is, to what extent will the parties’ expectations correspond to the agenda of the Eastern Economic Forum? For all the complexity of relations between the two countries, one of the key goals of the forum is to promote the Russian Far East, which makes up about 40% of the territory of Russia. This involves cooperation and dialogue.

About Alexey Mikkhalev

Alexey Mikhalev is a Political scientist (Asian Studies), Political observer and Doctor of Science (Russian degree). He mostly works with the Russian politics in Inner Asia and is currently researching «Russian World Policy» and Memory studies in Inner Asia.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He tweets @jdierkes
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