In the late 1980s, the close relationship between Mongolia and the Soviet Union was much the same as it had been since the 1920s. Mongolian foreign policy stressed consolidating the "fraternal alliance" with the Soviet Union and close cooperation with the members of the Warsaw Pact and Comecon. The two countries had direct links among ministries, agencies, departments, and party organizations. The Soviet Union encouraged direct contacts between Mongolia and the Buryatskaya Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and Tuvinskaya Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republics as well as the Central Asian Soviet republics. By 1985 the Soviet Union had consulates in the cities of Choybalsan; Darhan, where many Soviet-built factories were located; and Erdenet, the site of a Mongolian-Soviet joint copper and molybdenum mining enterprise. In August 1988, the only Mongolian ambassadorships with incumbents serving concurrently on the party Central Committee were assignments to countries of major concern to the Soviet Union: Albania, Afghanistan, East Germany, and Finland. The Mongolian ambassador to the Soviet Union also served on the party Central Committee.
When Batmonh became general secretary of the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party, an event followed closely by Gorbachev's election as general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the two leaders pledged to uphold and to strengthen the Mongolian-Soviet alliance. Gorbachev's "new thinking" in foreign policy matters soon became evident, however, and it no doubt raised major concerns, on the part of Mongolian leaders, particularly regarding a warming of relations between the Soviet Union and China. Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze visited Mongolia from January 23 to 25, 1986, shortly after celebrations marking the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the 1966 Mongolian-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance and its extension for ten years. Shevardnadze said that "the period of strained relationships with China is now behind us. The Soviet Union is for normalizing and improving relations with the Chinese republic on condition that the principle of not harming third countries be observed." One clear purpose of the Soviet formula of "not harming third countries" was to reassure Mongolia that the Soviet Union did not plan initiatives toward China that would compromise or endanger Mongolia's national security or expose that country to Chinese encroachments.
In July 1986, Gorbachev extended the new direction in foreign affairs in a speech on Asian security delivered in Vladivostok. He indicated Soviet interest in improved Moscow-Beijing relations, and he included a plan to withdraw Soviet troops from Mongolia, a major factor in Soviet diplomatic initiatives designed to meet China's conditions for normalization of relations.
Shortly after the Vladivostok initiative, Mongolian officials began talks with United States diplomats concerning another attempt to improve relations. Ulaanbaatar probably viewed prospective ties with Washington as offering a greater degree of maneuverability in the increasingly complex international setting in Asia. In January 1987, diplomatic ties were established with the United States, and the Soviet Union announced its intention to withdraw one division of troops from Mongolia. Both actions no doubt were the subject of lengthy substantive talks between Soviet and Mongolian leaders.
Mongolia further broadened its diplomatic horizons by hosting delegations from twenty-one communist and workers' parties for the Consultative Meeting of Communist and Workers' Parties of Asia and the Pacific Region, the first regional gathering of this type, in July 1986. The theme of this meeting was "peace, security and good-neighborly cooperation in Asia and the Pacific region." By hosting this meeting, Ulaanbaatar served Moscow's purposes of underscoring Gorbachev's new interest in Asia-- further highlighted by the attendance of a high-powered Soviet delegation. China declined to send a delegation, claiming that conditions were "not ripe," and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) did not attend either, probably as a gesture to China.
As Mongolia expanded its contacts in the international community, Gorbachev continued to extend his Asian initiatives, a development directly affecting Mongolia's national interests. In a speech delivered on September 16, 1988, at the southeastern Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Gorbachev presented a seven-point program designed to enhance security in the Asia-Pacific region and to promote his view of a multipolar approach to resolving issues in foreign relations. The so-called Krasnoyarsk initiative indicated both Soviet intentions to play a major role in the region and its awareness that China also must be included in regional development plans. Observers speculated that the Soviets must have expended considerable effort in reassuring Mongolian leaders that Soviet proposals dealing with East Asia, particularly those involving China, did not threaten Mongolian national security.
The challenge for Mongolia's foreign policy makers was to comply with Soviet initiatives, about which they had little choice, but to do so in a manner that suggested that Mongolia was acting as an independent country, shaping a foreign policy that served its national interests. At the same time, the Soviet Union could not appear to be overlooking the interests of its ally Mongolia while making its overtures to China. This mild restriction on Soviet behavior had helped to reassure Mongolia that continued Soviet protection and strategic support were reliable. In any case, Mongolian compliance with the Soviet initiatives was evident in Gorbachev's address to the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on December 7, 1988. In it he announced that most Soviet troops stationed in Mongolia would be withdrawn. Subsequently, in February 1989, during talks between Batmonh and a Soviet deputy foreign minister, the latter explained that discussions to resolve questions connected with "the withdrawal from the territory of Mongolia of 75 percent of Soviet land forces and other military subunits would soon begin." On March 7, 1989, the Soviets announced, probably as an additional concession to China on the eve of the May 1989 SinoSoviet summit, that withdrawal plans had been finalized.
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