Staunton, June 27 – Less than a month after the government of Trans-Baikal kray declared its intention to rent 115,000 hectares of land to China for 49 years, an action that has sparked protests and concern in Siberia and Moscow, the same government has proposed that Mongolia rent land in the Trans-Baikal as well.
If the former offer touches on Russian national fears that Beijing will ultimately introduce its own citizens to work the land and eventually secure its transfer to Chinese sovereignty, the latter offer may have more immediately destabilizing effects because of the links between the Buryats in the Trans-Baikal region and the Mongols of Mongolia.
Not only is there a Buryat region that was absorbed by the Trans-Baikal kray as part of Vladimir Putin’s regional amalgamation effort – there is a second Buryat district that was absorbed by a neighboring Russian region and there is the Buryat Republic itself, whose titular nationality views itself as closely linked to Mongolia.
Buryatia was known as the Buryat-Mongol ASSR until the late 1950s, and many Buryats to this day insist on identifying themselves as Buryat-Mongols rather than the officially correct “Buryat” in order to stress their ties to the Mongol nation to the south, a nation with whom they have increasingly intense interaction.
If Mongolia were to rent land in the Trans-Baikal, that would only encourage the Buryats to develop more such ties and to challenge what some of them see as unwanted Russian pressure on their nation, its political borders and its national language. At the very least, it would lead more Buryats to once again declare themselves Buryat Mongols.
The proposal to rent Trans-Baikal land to Mongolia was made this week by the first deputy prime minister of the kray, Aleksey Shemetov, who hopes Ulan Bator willrespond favorably. Moscow has not commented, but the initial Russian report (flashsiberia.com/news/vlasti-zabaykalya-predlozhili-mongolii-vzyat-zemlyu-v-arendu) has been picked up by a major Buryat portal (asiarussia.ru/news/8113/).