Open Forum

In September 2018 Russia carried out the largest military exercise since the height of the Cold War.1 Vostok-2018, held in Siberia, drew considerable attention in the Western media, not just because of the sheer scale of the event (declared as involving 300,000 troops and thousands of tanks and airplanes) but also because China sent an unprecedentedly large contingent force to join in the show of force. As the Russians and the Chinese bombed the living lights out of the training ground, one other participant escaped with fairly little notice: Mongolia. Compared to its mighty neighbors, Mongolia is of course an insignificant military player, and its contribution was very modest indeed (even if in the end two of its officers received honors from President Vladimir Putin). And it should really not be surprising that the Mongolian army – which relies for the vast bulk of its equipment on Russia, and which has long-established links with the northern neighbor – would join the Russians for such an important exercise. Yet in political terms, Mongolia’s participation was telling and deeply symptomatic of the country’s shifting orientation. With the creeping return of bloc politics, Mongolia is finding the pull of its neighbors too difficult to resist.

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