Mongolia’s Beijing-Financed Hydro-Electric Dams Threaten Lake Baikal – OpEd


Mongolia’s decision to build hydro-electric dams to solve its domestic electricity shortage, a decision that Beijing has backed by financing the project, threatens transborder rivers flowing from Mongolia into Russia and even the survival of Lake Baikal, Viktor Danilov-Danilyan says.

The corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences who heads the Moscow Institute on Water Problems says that in fact, “for Baikal,” what Mongolia with China’s backing is now doing, represents “a catastrophe for Baikal” and therefore must be of concern to all Russians (

By reducing the flow of the Selenga River northward, the Mongolian project will lower water levels in the lake and threaten its fragile ecosystems, Danilov-Danilyan says. But he doesn’t address what may be the even more serious consequences of this development on the political relations between Moscow, on the one hand, and Mongolia and China, on the other.

Given the sensitivity of Baikal in Russian thinking, Mongolia’s decision to take an action that will threaten its survival and China’s decision to back that will concessionary loans are likely to have a negative impact on Moscow’s relations with both Ulan Bator and, more importantly, Beijing.

Moscow has been alarmed by Mongolia’s drift away from Russia and especially by its increasing attractiveness to the Mongolian-related Buryats and Tuvans on the Russian side of the border ( and

Of course, the Kremlin isn’t nearly as concerned by Mongolia’s action as by China’s moves in support of what Ulan Bator is doing because while Russia could effectively pressure Mongolia if China weren’t involved, it will find it far harder to do so if Beijing is acting in support of Ulan Bator.

And that in turn means that what looks like a small problem in Mongolia could trigger new tensions between Moscow and Beijing, especially considering how important the survival of Lake Baikal is in the Russian imagination.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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