Question: How do you assess the battle of Khalkhin Gol and the significance of the victory for Russian-Mongolian relations?
Vladimir Putin: Historically and geographically, Russia and Mongolia are more than just close neighbours. The peoples of our countries are united by a close and trusting relationship based on friendship and mutual respect.
One of the most striking and momentous events in our common history was our joint victory over Japanese forces on the Khalkhin Gol River. Allow me to remind you that in the 1930s, the situation on Mongolia’s eastern border was turbulent, and tensions were mounting. The first major armed clashes occurred in 1935. In that context, on March 12, 1936, the Soviet Union and the Mongolian People’s Republic signed the Protocol on Mutual Assistance, which allowed for deploying Red Army units on the territory of Mongolia. In the final stage of the fierce fighting that lasted from August 20 to September 16, 1939, the Red Army defeated the invaders, fighting shoulder to shoulder with Mongol soldiers, and defended Mongolia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The victory at Khalkhin Gol was of great military and political importance. It became one of the main reasons why Japan did not attack the Soviet Union in 1941, and delayed its entry into World War II. This allowed the Soviet leadership to move its forces to the west at the end of 1941, which later played an important role in the battle of Moscow.
We in Russia remember with gratitude Mongolia’s help during the harsh years of the Great Patriotic War. The Mongolian people sent warm clothes and food to Soviet soldiers who fought at the front, and donated their horses to equestrian units. While denying themselves, they raised funds for the Revolutionary Mongolia tank brigade and the Mongolian Arat fighter squadron.
We hope that next May, President of Mongolia Khaltmaagiin Battulga will attend the celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War in Moscow.
Question: What is the goal of your upcoming visit besides the joint celebration of the 80th anniversary of the victory at Khalkhin Gol? What issues will be discussed?
Vladimir Putin: As I have already mentioned, our countries are not only brothers in arms and friends, but we also have a rich history of mutually beneficial cooperation. This year we have many anniversaries together, including the 70th anniversary of the flagship of our bilateral economic cooperation – the Ulaanbaatar Railway interstate joint venture. The development of Mongolia’s virgin lands with Soviet assistance began 60 years ago.
Today, Russian-Mongolian cooperation is comprehensive and multilateral, and covers the political, trade, economic, investment, financial, agricultural, scientific, education, cultural and sports areas.
During talks with President Khaltmaagiin Battulga, and meetings with Chairman of the State Great Khural Gombojav Zandanshatar and Prime Minister Ukhnaagiin Khurelsukh, we will discuss in detail the prospects for further promoting mutually beneficial cooperation, including the implementation of the medium term programme for strategic cooperation between the Russian Federation and Mongolia.
At the end of the visit, we will sign an interstate treaty on friendly relations and comprehensive strategic partnership, which will raise our bilateral ties to a fundamentally new level. Importantly, this document, based on the 1993 Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation, will have no expiration date.
Question: Mongolia and Russia are eternal neighbours. For objective reasons, economic ties declined in the 1990s, but they have been expanding recently. In which industries can the two states cooperate in the future? It is said that high customs duties adversely affect trade. Will reducing them to an acceptable level be discussed?
Vladimir Putin: Expanding multifaceted ties with Mongolia is one of Russia's priorities in Asia.
Indeed, bilateral trade has been expanding rapidly in recent years. Trade increased by almost 21 percent to $1.65 billion by the end of 2018 and grew by another 11.8% to $800 million in January-June.
Effective work to deepen practical cooperation is being carried out through the Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation, and through its specialised sub-commissions and working groups.
In our bilateral dialogue, we are focusing on the transport and infrastructure sector and on tapping Mongolia’s transit potential. To this end, Russian Railways is planning the modernization of the Ulan-Bator Railway, which is the country’s key transport artery.
Energy is another important area of cooperation. Russian companies supply electricity to Mongolia and participate in the technical retrofitting of its generating capacities. Interesting projects are being implemented or planned in both industry and agriculture.
Cooperation is underway in the sanitary and veterinary spheres. The second stage of the humanitarian programme for vaccinating livestock in Mongolia was successfully completed last year, which will facilitate the access of Mongolian livestock produce to the Russian market.
We are focused on environmental issues as well. Talks are underway to create a number of joint nature reserves along the border areas. This will help preserve the unique biodiversity of our common region.
We continue to assist Mongolia in training national professionals. Today, about 3,000 Mongolia citizens study at Russia’s universities. Every year, we set aside 500 state scholarships for Mongolian students.
With regard to cutting customs duties, a joint working group was created between the Eurasian Economic Commission and Mongolia in 2015. It is working to improve the efficiency of mutual trade, including removing barriers, improving customs administration and harmonising sanitary standards. Often, simplifying technical requirements gives a much greater boost to business than reducing duties.
Question: How has your mutual interest in judo and other sports influenced your personal relationship with President Battulga?
Vladimir Putin: For me, judo is not just a sport. Judo fosters one’s willpower, a respectful attitude towards others, endurance, the ability to take a hit and get out of difficult situations with dignity.
I know that the President of Mongolia Khaltmaagiin Battulga practices judo and unarmed self-defence and is an internationally recognised martial arts master. Common interests and a similar way of thinking helped us to quickly establish mutual understanding or, as they say, get on the same wavelength. Today, this helps us maintain an effective dialogue and deal with important issues of bilateral cooperation in a constructive manner, and successfully implement promising projects. We also make an effort to meet not only at political events or economic forums, but also in the stands of judo world championships.