Russia’s war in Ukraine has had a domino effect, creating economic, diplomatic, and now humanitarian crises. Russian citizens are scrambling to avoid conscription orders coming from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In September, Mongolia reported an increasing number of Russian citizens crossing the Mongolia-Russia border and applying for temporary residency status or, in some cases, an extension of stay.
Since late September, thousands of Russian citizens had fled into Mongolia, seeking a temporary stay. The Mongolian Immigration Agency reported that 6,268 Russian citizens have entered Mongolia via the Altanbulag Border Port.
Moreover, between September 21-29, 748 Russian citizens extended their temporary residence status in Mongolia. The following week, more than 1,000 people sought legal advice and immigration counseling on applying for temporary residency.
Mongolians recorded and posted the mass influx of Russian citizens entering Mongolia on social media platforms. Although Mongolians are aware of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, it is possible that Ulaanbaatar did not expect such a sudden influx of migrants.
Mongolia is not the only destination for Russian citizens and families fleeing the country.
In September alone, Kyrgyzstan registered the entries of about 22,000 Russian citizens. Kazakhstan recently received 200,000 Russian citizens. There are already reports of mixed views on Almaty’s economic capability to host such a large number of refugees. Georgia, Finland, and Norway also reported an increase in sudden Russian migration.
The looming humanitarian crisis caused by Russians pouring across the borders, largely into already poor neighbors, is yet another example of the devastation caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Despite its vast landscape, Mongolia is not known for hosting war refugees or accepting many immigrants. However, Mongolia has sheltered people from war-torn countries or authoritarian regimes in the past, albeit very much on a case-by-case basis.
In this instance, Ulaanbaatar has apparently decided to accept the Russian migrants. According to the director of the Mongolian Immigration Agency, “Given the current situation and the fleeing of the citizens of the Russian Federation, Mongolia will grant temporary residency permits to the people who have or will apply.”
The Mongolian government’s decision to assist Russian citizens can be viewed as Mongolia’s indirect involvement in the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, Mongolia has been pressured to speak out, while at times being accused of not doing enough to support Ukraine’s independence or sanctions against the Kremlin.
Despite these geopolitical pressures, Ulaanbaatar aims to maintain people-to-people relations versus fully supporting one side in the conflict.
Russia’s continuing invasion of Ukraine poses a major humanitarian threat to Northeast Asia and Central Asia. Bordering countries now have to deal with the influx of Russian citizens fleeing their homeland. Throughout history, mass migration has always been viewed as an economic burden for host societies.
During the Arab Spring, as refugees fled to Europe, countries were forced to implement new policies to deal with the surge of migrants. One such example is Denmark’s utilization of the no-free-lunch economic principle that allowed the Danish to confiscate non-essential items from the incoming refugees.
Given the current post-pandemic recovery stage of the global economy, a humanitarian crisis such as this one could further recessions and instability in Russia’s neighbors.
Putin’s war in Ukraine is no longer a foreign policy issue for Mongolia but also a domestic one. The number of citizens fleeing from Russia could have serious implications for Mongolia’s economic health and stability. There are also concerning implications for Mongolians living within Russia. As Kirill Krivosheev noted for the Carnegie Endowment “the Russian authorities have been openly targeting labor migrants from neighboring countries, offering good pay and a fast-track citizenship process in exchange for joining the army.”
Also, Mongolia’s ex-President Elbegdorj Tsakhia voiced his concern over Putin’s decision to deploy ethnic Mongolian minorities from Siberia and Yakutia, using them as cannon fodder in his ambition in Ukraine.
According to an analyst in Mongolia who preferred to remain anonymous, “Most likely this is a temporary situation. I don’t see Mongolia accepting too many refugees. Most of them are heading to other countries such as South Korea, Turkey, and Thailand. If you think about it, Mongolia is not really a hostable or economically friendly country for migrants.”
Mass exodus of Russian citizens fleeing mobilization indicates what the Russian people want. As for neighboring countries like Mongolia, balancing diplomatic ties with Moscow and managing the surge of Russian immigrants – soon to be refugees if the war continues – will force governments to take action – even if that means pushing Putin to take care of his people. After all, Mongolia and other Russian neighbors are not responsible for taking care of Russian citizens seeking a peaceful life.