Saturday, February 10, 2024

Moscow Again Fighting Pan-Mongolism Real and Imagined in Buryatia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Feb. 6 – The creation last month by the Buryat ASSR government of a special staff for warding off the threat of separatism and nationalism there recalls the efforts by Buryats right after the 1917 a revolution to seek greater autonomy or even independence and charges in the 1930s by the Stalin regime that the Buryats were continuing to pursue those goals.

            In an article for the People of Baikal portal, journalist Asya Gay draws this parallel after recounting both the three attempts to establish a Buryat autonomy or independence in the years after 1917 and Stalin’s repression of more than 2,000 Buryats for their supposed involvement in these efforts and later ones (

            She correctly points out that the charges brought against Buryats in the late 1930s were wholly invented, but her article “The Buryat-Mongol State” both calls attention to the complicated relationship of Buryats and Mongols and to the growing ties between the two Mongol nations especially since the start of Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine.

            Today’s Buryats were Buryat Mongols until 1958 when the Soviet government decided to change their name and the name of their republic from the Buryat-Mongol ASSR to the Buryat ASSR to stress the differences between them and another Mongol people, the Khalka Mongol who are the titular nation of Mongolia.

            This was the last act of the complicated history of Soviet nation building in Buryatia. Immediately after the Russian Civil War, Moscow created the Mongol-Buryat ASSR in the Russian Federation and the Buryat-Mongol autonomy within the Soviet puppet state, the Far Eastern Republic. When the FER was absorbed, the two Buryat autonomies were combined.

            In 1937, Moscow reduced the size of the Buryat-Mongol ASSR by a third, forming two Buryat autonomies outside its borders and transferring the Olkhon district to Irkutsk Oblast. There things remained until 2008 when Putin pushed through a referendum that handed one of these Buryat exclaves to Irkustsk Oblast the other to the Transbaikal kray.

            Buryats inside the Russian Federation have never been happy about the change in their name from Buryat Mongols to just Buryats, and they are outraged both by the 2008 moves and fears that Putin wants to do even more ethnic engineering against them in the future (, and

            There have been rumblings of discontent among the Buryats ever since, but these have become more frequent and radical since Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and disproportionately used Buryats and other ethnic minorities to serve as his cannon fodder there.

            Buryats have fled to Mongolia where they have been welcomed, and ever more talk is surfacing about the common past of these two peoples and even the possibility of the formation of a common Mongol state at some point in the future, the latest manifestation of Pan-Mongolism in Moscow’s eyes (,,,, and


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