Dec 15, 2020
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Mongolia has taken the unusual step of congratulating Azerbaijan on its victory over Armenia in the recent war, seemingly stepping up its efforts to strengthen relations with Turkey.
Azerbaijani and Armenian forces began fighting over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region in September and the war continued until early November, when Russian President Vladimir Putin convinced both sides to accept a ceasefire. Some sporadic fighting has continued despite the presence of Russian peacekeepers.
Azerbaijan is considered to have clearly won the war, as Armenia ceded all the territory it lost plus other areas that it has held since 1994.
International media have reported that Turkey supplied, trained and supported Azerbaijani troops, with further reports suggesting that Turkish soldiers even guided drone attacks (which Turkey denies).
Although Russia preserved some influence in the region through the peace deal and the presence of its soldiers on the ground, Azerbaijan’s victory shows the growing extent of Turkish influence in the region.
This may be why Mongolia’s Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan Bold Radvan met with the Azerbaijani Minister of Energy Parviz Shahbazov late last week.
In a statement, the Azerbaijani ministry said that the Mongolian ambassador “conveyed his congratulations on the liberation of Azerbaijani lands from Armenian occupation and restoration of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Azerbaijan.”
In the meeting, the ambassador also “drew attention to the development of relations between the two countries in various areas in recent years and expressed confidence that the bilateral relations will continue at a high level.”
The focus of the meeting appeared to be on bringing Azerbaijani expertise on oil and gas exploration and processing to Mongolia, as well as cooperating on renewable energy and international student placements.
Nonetheless, Mongolia’s congratulatory note over the war will no doubt be the main takeaway.
It could be seen as an effort to woo Turkey under the ‘Third Neighbour’ foreign policy, which is Mongolia’s strategy to improve relations with countries other than Russia in order to counter-balance China.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was outspoken in his support for Azerbaijan during the war, meaning Mongolia’s congratulations will not go unnoticed in Turkey and could open doors that may previously have been closed.
Turkey is a strong candidate for Mongolia’s ‘Third Neighbour’ policy thanks to long-standing diplomatic, educational and cultural ties: Turkey has had diplomatic relations with Mongolia since 1969 and has signed a number of bilateral agreements; Mongolia’s Orkhon Monuments are the some of the oldest Turkic-language inscriptions in existence and relate to the mythic origins of Turkic peoples; and thousands of Mongolian students have graduated from Turkish universities.
However, improving the relationship may not be entirely risk-free. Russia and Turkey have had disputes in the past and the war over Nagorno-Karabakh was seen as a test of both countries’ influence in the Caucuses. In seeking to improve relations with Turkey, there is a risk that Mongolia might draw the ire of Moscow, particularly if the Russo-Turkish relationship deteriorates.
Yet Russia is also a realist power. It appeared to recognise the inevitability of Azerbaijan’s victory and did not support Armenia in the war despite their mutual defence treaty. Perhaps Russia’s pragmatism is one reason why Mongolia was able to congratulate Azerbaijan - it’s a move that is unlikely to come with any significant cost, but could bring strategic benefits well into the future.
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