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09.01.2023 Author: Boris Kushhov

The Ukrainian crisis as perceived by Mongolian society

The significant changes seen in the Ukrainian crisis in 2022 are being actively discussed all over the world. Mongolia, a small but no less important neighbor of the Russian Federation, is no exception in this regard. The unique features of Mongolia’s historical development, its relations with Russia, its geographical location and the political and social orientations and values unusual for Eastern countries made its perception of the “Ukrainian events” special and worthy of attention in its own way.

Media space and the media

As for the Mongolian public perception of the Ukrainian crisis, it is safe to conclude that it is very often perceived by its citizens “through the prism” not only of moral-value assessments or cultural-political sympathies, but also of Mongolia’s key international security dilemma. It is about choosing the main external guarantor of the country’s security between Russia and the “West” in the face of growing Chinese influence. Citizens’ views on this issue very often determine their choice of position in the “intra-Mongolian” debate on the Ukrainian crisis. If the citizen considers maintaining friendly relations with Russia to be the main means of counterbalancing Chinese political and economic pressures, he/she tends to support Russia in the crisis, even if he/she has no sympathy for its actions on a moral level. In turn, those citizens who see their country’s “third neighbor” as the main counterweight to China tend to support the opposite side to Russia in the conflict – not Ukraine itself, but mainly the US, EU and NATO.

The purely pro-Ukrainian position, as shown by the results of the public opinion polls that will follow, is exhausted by the tendency of an ordinary Mongolian citizen to draw parallels between Mongolia and Ukraine. Both countries are often perceived by Mongols as small states oriented towards Western democratic standards, neighboring powers and pursuing independent policies that do not conform to the expectations of the same powers. Such searches for similarities were popular in Mongolian society in February-March 2022, and were often linked to ordinary people’s fears for the country’s sovereignty should the “Ukrainian scenario” be repeated in Mongolia itself, especially against the background of a propaganda campaign unleashed by the West about Russia’s alleged “aggressiveness”. This was also made possible by the poor dissemination of information about the aims of the special military operation and the events of 2014-2022 in the Mongolian-speaking community.

Speaking of sources and mechanisms for disseminating information on the Ukrainian crisis in Mongolian public space, there are a number of factors that make it difficult for Mongolian citizens to learn about the aims and objectives of the special military operation, as well as details of the historical genesis of the Ukrainian crisis. The key ones among them are the following:

1 – Factor in the use of English and the popularity of English-language media.

In Mongolia, a fairly large percentage of the population receives information on international political processes precisely in English, which serves up a mostly anti-Russian narrative. In turn, Mongolian national news portals and agencies most often duplicate material from foreign media in their coverage of events in Ukraine, simply translating it into Mongolian. As a rule, foreign media refers to US, European, Japanese and South Korean news publications, while the share of translated news from Russian sources is many times less significant.

2 – Factor in Western social media as a key source of information on international relations.

 The main source of information on international developments for an ordinary Mongolian citizen (especially for the 18 to 45 year old) is not newspapers, magazines, TV and radio news, or even Internet news portals, but precisely social media. Due to the dominance of anti-Russian attitudes and propaganda on these social networks (also Western in origin), a large proportion of Mongolian citizens are influenced by Western propaganda and Western public opinion in general.

3 – Factor in the credibility of the UN opinion.

Mongolia seeks to participate actively in the work of this body, and this makes the image of the UN in the minds of Mongols more respected than in most other parts of the world. As a result, in Mongolian society, the assessment of events as recorded in UN General Assembly resolutions appears to be as objective and fair as possible.  Given the condemnatory nature of most resolutions against Russia, this UN credibility, typical of Mongolia, contributes to the spread of anti-Russian sentiments and attitudes in society. Nevertheless, the UNGA is perceived in Mongolia as the voice of the international community in general, rather than as the voice of the “collective West”.

The preservation of the memory of the positive aspects of Russian-Mongolian and Soviet-Mongolian friendship in the public mind, especially the joint struggle against Nazism during World War II, plays the opposite role by making Mongols view Russian actions positively. Due to the latter circumstance, the Russian motif of “denazification” is extremely positively perceived by the widest sections of Mongolian society. A large number of Russia’s supporters are also provided by those citizens who were educated in the USSR. This category of the population is quite visible, but has a long-term downward trend. After all, this is about citizens aged 50 and over – in a country where the median age is 27 and average life expectancy is 71 years. Also, Russia is supported by those sections of society that view the experience of building socialism in the Mongolian People’s Republic positively.

Public opinion polling data in 2022

Public opinion polls conducted in the country after the Ukrainian crisis has entered a new phase of aggravation (February-March 2022) provide a measure of the extent to which certain attitudes are prevalent in society. From their analysis it seems possible to draw the following conclusions:

- There are many more Mongolian citizens supporting Russia than those supporting Ukraine. 21.7% support Russia in the conflict, while only 1.8% support Ukraine.

- Mongolian citizens consider Ukraine’s destructive policies to be the main reason for the escalation of the crisis. Thus, 20.8% of those surveyed blame Ukraine for the aggravation of the crisis, 10.5% blame Russia, 10.8% blame the US and 11.8% blame NATO.

- Russia is still perceived by Mongols as a key foreign policy ally. 33% of those surveyed have a very positive attitude towards the Russian Federation, and a further 52% have a rather positive attitude. In addition, 66% see the Russian Federation as the closest ally and 46% as the main guarantor of Mongolia’s national security. At the same time, the PRC was named as the “main guarantor” by four times and the so-called “Third Neighbor” countries (USA, EU, Japan and South Korea) by ten times fewer respondents. Also, 56% of respondents believe that the Russian Federation has a decisive influence on Mongolia’s future.

- The escalation of the Ukrainian crisis has had a significant impact on the social and economic situation in Mongolia. 75% of respondents note a certain impact of the “Ukrainian events” on their country’s well-being because of the effect of Western anti-Russian sanctions. By the way, a particularly strong negative impact can be seen in the rise in fuel prices imported from Russia, the suspension of international currency transactions by Mongolian banks due to their dependence on Russian ones in this matter, and the suspension of Russian exports of explosives for the mining industry in Mongolia.

- Mongolia’s official position enjoys the relative approval of its population. Thus, 71.2% of Mongolian citizens surveyed are in favor of maintaining neutrality towards the participants in the crisis.

- The amount of anti-Russian narrative on the Mongolian internet is far more visible than in the results of comprehensive public opinion polls. The situation here is somewhat reminiscent of the significant dominance of the Democrats’ agenda in the US online space, with little difference in the votes of citizens and electors in the recent presidential and congressional elections.

- The level of support for the Russian Federation in rural areas is higher than in urban areas. In the capital 15.3% openly support Russia, while in the rest of the country (predominantly rural areas) 27.1% do.

Summary

Therefore, the Mongolian public perception is characterized by a “mongolocentric” and “pragmatic” type of perception of Ukrainian events. At the same time, pro-Russian judgements and perceptions noticeably prevail in assessments of the parties’ actions, despite the presence of significant factors that can ensure the relative popularity of pro-Western sentiments.

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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