Mongolia's Military Trains With U.S., Buys Fighters From Russia
Mongolia has kicked off its annual international peacekeeping exercise, Khaan Quest, with about 900 soldiers from 11 countries taking part. In addition to Mongolians, the exercises will include the United States, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, India, Germany, Indonesia, Cambodia and Singapore. The exercises began Sunday, will last until August 12 and focus on peacekeeping operations.
The exercise is organized since 2003 by U.S. Pacific Command and is one of the more visible elements of Mongolia's "third neighbor" policy, by which Mongolia tries to strengthen relations with countries beyond its two immediate neighbors, Russia and China, which Ulaanbaatar fears will hold too much leverage over their small country. (For example, a recent trade dispute with Russia has resulted in fuel shortages in Mongolia, and some Mongolians see it as retaliation for shutting Russia out of a big mining deal.)
But Russia probably isn't feeling too left out of the exercises: Mongolia's defense minister, Luvsanvandan Bold, has said that the country plans to buy four or five new MiG-29 fighter jets as well as a ground training flight simulator from Russia. This will be Mongolia's first fielding of MiG-29s; the country's air force now flies a small number of MiG-21s. This follows the pattern that the U.S. has established in other post-Soviet countries, most notably Kazakhstan: understanding that the military ties with Russia are too great to supplant entirely, the U.S. will instead focus on training and equipping small, niche forces to take part in U.N. peacekeeping and U.S.-led military operations like Iraq and Afghanistan.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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