RUSSIA AND ITS NEIGHBORS: FOCUS ON NORTHEAST ASIA
9. RUSSIA-MONGOLIA: LATENT TERRITORIAL ISSUES
SOURCES. (A) Iu. V. Kuz'min and V. V. Svinin, "'Panmongolizm' kak
natsional'naia ideia konsolidatsii narodov Tsentral'noi Azii v XX veke"
[Pan-Mongolism as a National Idea for the Consolidation of the Peoples of
Central Asia in the 20th Century], pp. 151-6 in Vostochnosibirskii regionalizm:
sotsiokul'turnyi, ekonomicheskii, politicheskii i mezhdunarodnyi aspekty [East
Siberian Regionalism: Socio- Cultural, Economic, Political, and International
Aspects] (Moscow: Moskovskii obshchestvennyi nauchnyi fond, 2001) (B) Timur
Muzaev, Etnicheskii separatizm v Rossii [Ethnic Separatism in Russia] (Moscow:
Izd-vo OOO "Panorama," 1999), pp. 71-2, 187
The term "Mongol," like "Turk," has a narrow meaning and
a broad one. Just as "Turks" commonly refers to the Anatolian Turks of
Turkey, so do people usually identify "Mongols" with the Khalkha
Mongols who are divided between the independent state of Mongolia (Outer
Mongolia) and the neighboring autonomous region of Inner Mongolia within China.
However, in the broader sense the Mongols, like the Turks, are not a single
ethnic group but rather a family of peoples who speak related languages who
share certain historical memories. Besides the Khalkha Mongols, the Mongol
family of peoples includes three ethnic groups within the Russian Federation:
the Buryats and Altaians of southern Siberia and the Kalmyks on the northwestern
shore of the Caspian Sea. (1)
While the Khalkha Mongols, Buryats, Altaians, and Kalmyks are distinct ethnic
groups with their own languages, they share the historical memory of the nomadic
empire created by Genghis Khan. In addition, since the 16th or 17th century they
have had in common the religious heritage of Lamaist Buddhism, which spread
north to the Mongol peoples from Tibet. Thus there was some basis for the
emergence in modern times of a pan-Mongol movement aspiring to the unification
of all Mongol peoples within a single state that would incorporate large areas
currently belonging to Russia and China.
Pan-Mongolism has risen and fallen in five waves: at the beginning of the
20th century, in 1911-15, in 1918-21 (during the civil war), in 1925-28, and in
1989-93. It is a persistent long-term tendency that remains latent most of the
time but is activated at times when Russian and/or Chinese state authority is
In the mid-1920s pan-Mongolist ideas were adopted by prominent leaders of the
Mongolian People's Republic. For a while they were encouraged in this by the
Comintern, which hoped that the "Mongol card" might -- like the
"Kurdish card" -- be used to promote the revolution in Asia and extend
Soviet influence southward. (2)
In the 1990s pan-Mongolism has been championed by such organizations as the
Movement for Unity of the Mongol Nation, which is based in Outer Mongolia, and
in Buryatia by the Movement for National Unity "Negeden" and the
Buryat-Mongol People's Party (BMPP). (3) However, pan-Mongolism does not command
wide support among the Buryats: even the chairman of the BMPP, Igor Pronkinov,
has failed to win election to the People's Khural (as the regional legislature
is called in Buryatia). Moreover, the movement is beset by internal
contradictions: some want to revive the sacral cult of Genghis Khan while others
seek to revive Lamaism and/or shamanism.
Indeed, Kuz'min and Svinin take the view that pan-Mongolism has never been a
mass movement and has always been restricted to the nationalist intelligentsia.
A "greater Mongolia" is therefore a rather far-out scenario, except
perhaps in the event of the simultaneous collapse of Chinese and Russian
A more plausible danger is reactivation of a long simmering dispute over the
border between Tuva and Mongolia. When Tuva was formally independent -- that is,
up to November 1944 -- this was a dispute between Tuva and Mongolia. Then Tuva
was incorporated into the USSR, turning it into a dispute between the Soviet
Union and Mongolia, and now it is a dispute between Russia and Mongolia. (4)
Until the 1930s the Tuvin-Mongol border was defined only by natural features
and tradition. Some fields and pastures were used by both Tuvins and Mongols,
leading to intermittent conflict. Since 1900 this traditional border had shifted
in favor of the Tuvins.
In 1932 negotiations between the Mongol People's Republic and the Tuvin
People's Republic, mediated by the USSR, established a formally agreed border,
but the Mongol side declared that it did not consider the matter closed. In 1944
the border line of 1932 became the provisional Soviet-Mongol border.
Negotiations to finalize the border were opened in November 1957. The Mongol
side demanded that the border be moved back to where it was at the end of the
19th century -- that is, that the USSR cede 16,000 square kilometers. The Soviet
delegation, headed by Vyacheslav Molotov, objected that this land was now farmed
and grazed by Tuvins. In March 1958, under strong Soviet pressure, a compromise
was finally reached: 2,000 square kilometers, one eighth of the area in dispute,
was ceded to Mongolia. The Mongolian foreign minister, who opposed signing the
treaty, was removed on the demand of Moscow.
The Tuvin national movement that has developed since the late 1980s denies
that the USSR had the right to cede ANY "Tuvin" land to Mongolia and
demands "restoration of the territorial integrity of Tuva within its 1932
borders." The Mongolian government has not publicly reasserted any
territorial claim, but it seeks to reopen border negotiations with Russia, so
presumably it is not happy with the present border. Renewed tension on the
ground in the border area led to violent incidents in the 1990s: in 1992-93
there were fights over disputed pastures between Tuvin and Mongol shepherds, in
some cases with the capture of hostages and the use of firearms.
(1) The Altaians and the Kalmyks are descended from the Oirots or western
Mongols. See RAS No. 13 item 8.
(2) Among the Mongolian communist leaders pan-Mongolism was supported by Ts.
Dambadorzh, N. Zhamba, and Ts. Zhamtsarano.
(3) The BMPP was founded in fall 1990. Initially only its radical wing was
pan-Mongolist, but this wing took control of the party in early 1992.
(4) The border dispute and the issue of pan-Mongolism are not totally
unconnected. Pan-Mongolists often lay claim to Tuva despite the fact that the
Tuvins are a Turkic not a Mongol people.