The panic triggered across Mongolia in December 2023 abrupt notice of possible electricity cuts from the Russian supplier lays bare the country’s festering strategic liability—energy overdependence on its domineering neighbor. For all the defiant neutrality Ulaanbaatar projects amid the Ukraine war, existing energy dependence chains Mongolia to Moscow’s whims and blackmail.
Breaking free requires political courage domestically and enhanced partnerships abroad.
That the threatened outage was eventually walked back after tense government lobbying changes little. Russia’s capriciousness reveals Mongolia’s glaring infrastructure inadequacy and import reliance, especially for winter heating.
Subsidized prices have starved investments while demand in Ulaanbaatar balloons. Stopgap suppliers are years away, including long-stalled Erdeneburen hydropower. The result: electricity blackouts and discontinued public services lurk over every winter.
Apologists blame weather or technical issues, denying any Russian pressure linked to Mongolia’s neutral Ukraine stance or its uranium deal with France. But the naked vulnerability is laid bare, inviting future coercion. This is the harsh reality of neglected strategic policy. Recoiling from difficult energy decisions, politicians have trapped Mongolia perilously.
And Russia has Mongolia where it wants strategically—forced into its orbit by inertia and infrastructure, despite divergent interests as in Ukraine. The coming election only tightens political reticence.
Breaking free requires mustering the will to overhaul the central heating system, liberalize prices and incentivize renewable energies. That mandates statesmanship, not poll paralysis.
Mongolia boasts considerable renewables potential. But harvesting this means confronting subsidy addiction and welcoming foreign investors and technologies.
Partnerships can enhance energy security. Mongolia should carefully learn from Europe which faced similar coercion from Russia in gas pipelines.
Survival demands not begging one neighbor or another one, but judiciously engaging many. Moscow must learn it cannot perpetually sabotage Ulaanbaatar’s sovereignty.