How Large Does Putin’s Russia Loom?

By Julian Dierkes

Earlier in the year, in the context of the coverage of the events in Kazakhstan, I jotted down some notes, but more in terms of what I might do in a global news event involving Mongolia than what this means, somehow, for Mongolia.

So, does any of what transpired in Kazakhstan have implications for Mongolia? More specifically, what about democracy and what about the action or threat of action by Russia and China as it impacts Mongolia.

Those were questions I was thinking about before Russia invaded the Ukraine. I’ll leave the sections I had begun drafting in January below with some edits as I had originally started them and will then return to the current context at the bottom of the post.

____________Original Jan 2022 Sections____________


Kazakhstan and Mongolia play in very different democracy leagues. Mongolia is in the premier division here and has not faced relegation in many years, Kazakhstan has not even come close to promotion up from the 3rd division to the 2nd.


I have no expertise on Russian politics or foreign policy beyond that of an eager reader/listener of quality media. I therefore have very little to say about the reality of Russian “interest” in Mongolia which is a euphemism for the extent to which Russia and its authoritarian president imposes his will on Mongolia, either through implied or threatened force. I do have some notes on the perception of Russia in this regard in Mongolia.

I want to emphasize the long historical legacy to these discussions. Clearly Soviet dominance over Mongolia from the late 1910s through 1990 is a central element of today’s situation not only because many older Mongolians including many policy-makers were focused on the Soviet Union in their own socialization, but also because that relationship continues to shape Mongolia’s foreign policy today.

Does Russia really notice what Mongolia decides/says? If yes, what is the implied threat, just fuel?

Critical infrastructure (pipelines), energy

__________Further Thinking Given Russia’s Aggression against Ukraine_________

As many observers of international relations have noted, the world is a different place with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. And, this has changed the geopolitical balance for Mongolia significant.

So far, the Mongolian government has remained carefully coy with statements on Russia’s aggression. While this is surely worthy of another post, public reactions have been mixed with some expressions of solidarity with Russia and repetition of spurious Russian portrayals of Ukrainian fascism or persecution of Russian-speaking populations, while others have been outspoken in their condemnation of Russian aggression, often rooted in statements of dedication to democratic governance and human rights, but also tinged with a sense of neo-imperialistic attitudes in Russia.

Yet, official silence seems to have been driven largely by fears of Russian reprisals, especially as the Chinese government has been positioning itself as a passive but nevertheless supportive partner to Putin’s Russia.

The questions I was thinking about in January in the context of the CSTO intervention in Kazakhstan thus seem ever more pressing in the current context and are questions that Mongolians are very much wrestling with.

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 toots
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