Moscow Alarmed By Talk In Kazakhstan And Mongolia About Their ‘Common Altai Home’ On Russian Territory – OpEd
By Paul Goble
Both Kazakhstan and Mongolia have long published maps showing their national territories extending into Russia, Aleksey Baliyev says; but now the two countries appear set on developing new rail links that could undermine the Trans-Siberian railway and even subvert Russian control of the Altai, an important source of Russia’s mineral wealth.
Since 2003, the two Central Asian countries have had an international coordinating council called “Our Common Home – the Altai” but it has engaged primarily in promoting tourism and cooperation in the scholarly investigation of the region adjoining the two countries (akzs.ru/news/92/61198).
But recently Astana and Ulan Bator held a joint conference of this group which suggested the two countries have a larger agenda that could involve the development of a new transport route and that this is not some pie-in-the-sky plan but a project that appears to have the support of China (dknews.kz/ru/politika/265962-kazahstan-mongoliya-v-ulan-batore-proshla).
Not surprisingly, this has set off alarm bells in the Russian capital because Kazakhstan, Mongolia and possibly China now appear committed to a project that will affect Russian territory and to do so on their own without any involvement of their Russian partners who expect to be consulted by such “partners.”
The latest example of this concern is a lengthy article by Moscow commentator Aleksey Baliyev for the portal directed at the military-industrial sector of the Russian economy, one that has key interests in the mines of the Altai region and republic in the Russian Federation (vpoanalytics.com/2023/05/17/bolshoj-altaj-postroyat-li-mongoliya-i-kazahstan-otdelnuyu-kvartiru-v-obshhem-dome/).
According to Baliyev, Kazakhstan and Mongolia want to build a rail route through the Russian Altai to connect their two countries more directly than now. At present, they have to send goods north into the Russian interior and then have those goods shipped back along another track to their destination.
Such a route, which the Russian commentator says China likely supports, would have a negative impact on Russian railways and could have the effect of allowing the three countries involved to trade bypassing Russia and thus escaping sanctions problems (ritmeurasia.org/news–2023-04-16–rf-mongolija-knr-kazahstan-formiruetsja-tranzitnaja-sistema-bolshoj-evrazii-65786and informburo.kz/novosti/biznesmeny-kazahstana-i-mongolii-hotyat-ugovorit-svoi-pravitelstva-postroit-zheleznuyu-dorogu.html).
“It isn’t hard to understand that if this route is built, it will de facto become a southern duplicate of the West Siberian sector of the Trans-Siberian” and even become the basis of Kazakhstan or Mongolian claims to Russian territory. After all, Baliyev says, some Kazakhs are already pushing to rename portions of Eastern Kazakhstan the Altyn Altai.