EXPLORING THE HISTORY OF TUVA-MONGOLIA LINKAGES IN THE CONTEXT OF SINO-RUSSIAN/SOVIET RIVALRY Мақаланың авторы сино-ресей қатынастары контекстінде тува-монғол байланыстарын қарастырады. Түріктердің Таванс аборигендеріне ықпал етуі ресейлік жəне батыс ғалымдарының географиялық жəне діни зерттеулерінің негізі болды. Деректік жəне тарихнамалық тұрғыдан тува-монғол қатынастарының өткенін, оның қазіргі кезеңдегі ре- сей-қытай серіктестігіндегі рөлін кешенді сипаттауға талпыныс жасады. Автор рассматривает тувинско-монгольские связи в контексте сино-российских взаимоот- ношений. Рассмотрение тюркского влияния на аборигенов Таванса стало географическим и религиозным основанием для исследований, сделанных российскими и западными учеными. В статье на основе источникового и историографического анализа сделана попытка комплекс- ного рассмотрения исторического прошлого тувинско-монгольских отношений и показана их определяющая роль в российско-китайском сотрудничестве на современном этапе.
Just two years ago in 2007, the Siberian Republic of Tuva figured prominently in the Russian news as it
was preferred out of 88 regions by the then Russian President Vladimir Putin to host Monaco Prince Albert II
for a three-day holiday . The fact that Tuva’s importance lies in its cultural richness and natural beauty
must have attracted Putin to spend holidays with his guest there. Covering an area of 170,500 sq. kilometers
with its capital Kyzyl formerly known as Belotsarsk, Tuva, previously known as Tannu Tuva is located in
the geographical «center» of Asia where the Siberian and Central Asian landscapes congregate, i.e., in the
south-eastern Siberia in the region of the Enisei (also spelled Yenesei) river. Moreover, the whole area is
separated from Mongolia by the Tannu Ola range and from Russia by the Sayan range of mountains. Other-
wise known as Uryankhai , whose indigenous inhabitants are connected with the Mongols, is now the
smallest and most remote republic of the Russian Federation, situated at a distance of 1,000 kilometers south
of the Siberian super city of Krasnoyarsk. From the eighteenth century onwards due to its strategic location
of being in the zone of Sino-Russian rivalry, Tuva emerged as a geo-political entity, which finally came un-
der Moscow’s sphere of influence in 1944 .
The background story of Tuva’s incorporation into former USSR reflects the whole history of Sino-
Russian/Soviet rivalry for dominating the Mongolian borderlands. And this rivalry always prevented at-
tempts of unification of Tuva with Mongolia on the basis of their ethnic and cultural links, in which Russia
succeeded in outweighing Chinese claims over Tuva . However, in the post-Soviet period, the revival of
Buddhism in Siberia has provided significant opportunity for Tuva to relink itself with the Buddhist world in
Historical Setting The Tuvans of Turkic Uryankhai-Tuva- developed from ancient indigenous tribes and some groups
such as Tugiu-Turks, Uyghurs and Kirghizs (or Kyrgyzs) besides absorbing some Mongolian tribes who
came to be Turkicised . This Turkic influence on native Tuvans in addition to the geographical and reli-
gious considerations became the basis of claims made by Russian scholars that the Tuvans are different from
Mongols in their origin, culture and language, i.e., they are Siberian and Turkic-oriented, hence somehow
closer to Russia than to Mongolia . Western scholar like Rupen too agrees to this point of view when he
says, «There clearly exists some genuine basis for distinguishing Tuvans and Mongols» . But at the same
time he argues that «the former [Tuvans] do display far greater Turkic influence, yet it is also true that West-
ern Mongols, the Oirats, differ from the predominant Khalkha Mongols in many of the same characteristics
that differentiate Tuvans from Khalkhas.» According to him, «some Tuvans are ‘very Mongols,’ while other
are ‘very Turkic,’ so they could be described as constituting an ethnic and cultural bridge between Central
Asian Turkic and Central Asian Mongol group.»
The territory of Tuva remained under Mongol control from thirteenth to the first quarter of eighteenth
centuries. It was an industrial and raw material base for the Mongol army under Chinggis Khan and his suc-
cessors, which carried out campaigns to the west. Though Chinese sovereignty over Tuva was recognized by
Russia in 1728 Kiakhta Treaty , the area had formally come under the Manchu-Chinese Qing rule in 1757
and a year later it had been administratively attached to Outer Mongolia (now known as simply Mongolia)
under Sain Noyan Khan aimak (province) . Since then, throughout the eighteenth, nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries, the area remained a Qing dependency not only politically but to some extent economi-
cally as well . It was only in 1911 when a liberation movement provided Mongolia an opportunity to de-
clare its independence from the Qing rule, Tuva too found itself outside the Manchu sphere. However, what
is striking to note here is that although Tuva was under Qing control for almost 150 years, the latter «never
exercised close control there» . Instead, it were Russian settlers who entered the territory during the mid-
dle of the nineteenth century, most of them for trade purposes, ultimately played significant role in deciding
Tuva’s future. The issue of their protection from Chinese traders often invited concerns of the Russian Gov-
ernment, which took a political shape.
Increasing Russian settlement in Tuva region particularly since 1910 owes much to the foresightedness
of Tsar Nicholas II who, in 1908, had acknowledged Tuva as an area, which «may become very useful for
Russia in the future» . Tuva’s geo-political importance, thus, was one of the key reasons for encouraging
Russian settlement in the area and as time went on, more and more Russians including merchants and farm-
ers crossed the border. Consequently, the number of Russian settlers increased considerably so much so that
the figure rose from 2,100 in 1910 to 8,200 in 1916, which further grew constantly to reach the figure of al-
most 12,000 in 1944 . Moreover, nonexistence of any permanent Chinese settlement in Tuva also
smoothen the progress of Russian settlement as Rupen notes down that «the Manchu administrative system
operated indirectly through Tuvan and Mongol agents, whereas Russian control was more direct and straight-
forward» . This apparently helped prevent Chinese ambitions in that area.
Since Tuva was known to be rich in natural resources especially minerals, the activities of mineral ex-
plorers also gave way to the Russian penetration in this area. The motivation for Russian penetration was that
Tuva was «an extremely valuable colonisable territory with fertile soil, good pastures and rich mineral de-
posits, above all gold».Many Russian merchants, who came to Tuva in search for gold, returned with
such considerable amounts of gold that «Russian government agencies began to be interested in the natural
resources of the region». In fact, Russians were the first to do business in Tuva . Since 1867 when
the first Russian merchants came and established three trading stations in Tuva, there had been sharp in-
crease in their business as well as their penetration. By 1890s, almost the whole Tuvan territory seemed to
have been covered with Russian trading stations . These commercial activities further continued in the
Soviet period as well mainly due to the fact that Tuva’s richness in natural resources had shaped the area
largely as «economic necessity to the Russian centre» .
The beginning of twentieth century witnessed new developments on the political front due to the cir-
cumstances of the day. Encouraged by the permanent Russian settlement Tsarist Russia became interested in
adding Tuva to its territory. The first attempt in this direction was made in November 1911 after the Mongols
of Outer Mongolia proclaimed their autonomy following the success of their liberation movement against the
Manchu-Qing rule . But the Tsarist government decided to follow the policy of what Morgen Mongush
describes as «peaceful penetration» . After the Autonomous government of Outer Mongolia was estab-
lished in Urga, Jebtsun Damba Khutukhtu, the Urga living Buddha whose area of control bordered Tuva,
tried to encourage Tuvans for joining the new state. Moreover, since the Mongols considered Tuva as legiti-
mately falling within their own territory, they wanted the area to be incorporated in Autonomous Mongolia.
At that point in time, most of the native Tuvans too, desired for the same, which is evidenced by the fact that
in 1912, even a Tuvan amby-noyon (feudal lord) Gombodorji applied to the Urga government for inclusion
of Tuva in latter’s territory . Despite the fact that his application was accepted without any delay and
soon he was made Urga’s official representative , he, on the other hand, came under the influence of
Russian forward policy in Tuva.
The Russian policy with regard to Tuva can be understood by a statement of the Imperial Council of
Ministers issued in 1913. The statement stressed that the Russian recognition of the autonomy of Mongolia
as per the Treaty of October 21, 1912 [old style] and the departure of Chinese officials not only from Mon-
golia but also from Uryanghai [Tuva], placed the issue of Russian government’s relation with the latter in a
new direction . It further said:
The proclamation of the Republic in China and Mongolian independence, and the departure of the Chi-
nese officials who had been responsible for Uryanghai from Ulyasutai has as a consequence put an end to the
departure of Uryanghai on China; also Khalkha [Outer Mongolia], now first entered into political life, can
not claim this land. Therefore, His Majesty suggests to Minister Sazonov that Russian policy concerning
Uryanghai should take the direction of fixing this land in Russian interests .
And in fact, as recorded in the third edition of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, «in 1912–13 many big
landowners and officials repeatedly appealed to the Russian tsar to incorporate Tuva in to the Russian em-
pire». Gombodorji, however, made a request to the Russian government in St. Petersberg through a letter
dated October 26, 1913 for the establishment of a Russian protectorate, an idea which was originally advo-
cated by Sazonov. After prolonged discussion, the idea was accepted by the Russian cabinet and on April 5,
1914, a Russian protectorate over Tuva was announced. But Sazonov was calculated so much so that he de-
clared that in exchange of getting Russian protection «the Uryanghais [Tuvans] must first of all give up the
right of external relations and must pledge themselves to form connections with their neighbours only
through the official stationed in the territory by the Governor-General of Irkutsk» . A few months later in
July 1914, an instruction was communicated to Gombodorji by a Russian border Commissioner, Zererin say-
ing, «Your duty is to maintain no relations of any kind with foreign states, including Mongolia....».
Gombodorji immediately agreed to abide by the instruction. Tuva, henceforth, remained under Russian pro-
tection until 1917 when the Russian Revolution overthrew Tsarism.
However, during this period, neither Chinese nor Mongolians stayed away of the Tuvan affair. They re-
peatedly argued that Tuva was an integral part of Outer Mongolia but nothing substantial they could achieve
due to the success of diplomatic maneuvering on the part of Tsarist Russia. At that time Russian policy to-
wards Outer Mongolia and Tuva differed in its nature. According to Dallin, «the old Russian governments
strove to achieve ‘independence’ and ‘autonomy’ for Mongolia, whereas Tuva was to be subjected to direct
control by Russia». Nevertheless, the Revolution of 1917 in Russia changed the scene at least for the
time being and these tendencies were no more in sight. The course of events in both Tuva and Mongolia
from 1918 onwards was similar, as their territories became a battleground due to the civil war between Red
and White Russians. It was only in 1921 when White Russian troops, who had overrun Mongolia and Tuva,
suffered a heavy defeat at the hand of the Red Army that the Soviet period in Tuva’s history began.
The first step that the Soviet government had taken was to abolish Russian protectorate «forever» and
proclaim Tuva’s independence . In fact, it was at the first Congress of the Representatives of the Tuvan
Khosuns, which took place from August 13 to 16, 1921 that the declaration of Tuva’s independence and sov-
ereignty as well as the first draft Constitution were adopted . Subsequently, a Tuvan government was
formed and on September 9, 1921, the RSFSR declared that «it did not consider Tuva to be Russian».
Tuva, thus, was recognized by Soviet Russia in the same year and just a little over one and half months after
Mongolia became a People’s Republic.
Pan-Mongolism and Tuva’s Future Following the establishment of the Tuvan People’s Republic (TPR) a Tuvan People’s Revolutionary
Party (TPRP) was formed on October 29, 1921. The TPRP issued its first manifesto to the people of Tuva on
December 20, 1921 . Three successive Tuvan Constitutions were also drafted in 1922, 1924 and 1926.
But it was the third Constitution which was adopted on the Soviet model and was finally confirmed by the
Fourth Great Khural on November 24, 1926 . It is, however, to be noted that although Tuva proclaimed
its independence, its desire to unite with Mongolia was not dead. There existed a tendency to participate in
the movements for Pan-Mongolism. Tuva constituted one of the territories to be included in the unified state.
In fact, Pan-Mongolism represented the desire of indigenous Mongols to have a united state based on the
model of the Empire of Chinggis Khan. This concept was so deep rooted that it called for reunification of all
the Mongols wherever they were as well as all the Mongolian areas into a single «Greater Mongolian state.»
The idea of creating such a state that would essentially be a Pan-Mongolian in nature, primarily focussed on
including territories comprising of not only Outer and Inner Mongolia as well as Buryat and Tuva regions of
Siberia but also the territories of Tibetans, the Kyrgyzs and Kalmyks, thereby stretching the whole area from
the Caspian Sea to Lake Baikal.
However, Pan-Mongolism could not grow into a movement for a single unified state against the desire
of the native Mongols whose region was now separated in different areas by different powers. The key factor
behind this denial was the geopolitical importance of Mongolian areas, which attracted various powers
mainly Russia, China and Japan to establish their supremacy over there. As a result the Mongols were left
with nothing but a dead desire of having a Pan-Mongolian state. Tuvans were also discouraged and forced to
remain separate from Mongolia despite their continuous urge for unity. In early 1920s, Donduk, the Tuvan
Prime Minister explained: «The Tuvinian person is small, poor and backward in the cultural aspect. That is
why it must be united with Mongolia». Even in 1924, the Tuvan people went to the extreme by declaring
their «affiliation» with Outer Mongolia . But they received a setback when Soviet troops were sent to
suppress the revolt successfully. Nevertheless, the events that followed were of vital importance in the his-
tory of Tuva-Mongolia linkages. The issue of Tuva’s union with Mongolia was again placed on the agenda at
a Tuvan Great Khural session in 1924. But soon after in July 1924, three-sided talks among Mongolia, Rus-
sia and Tuva in Kyzyl ended with «the de facto recognition of the country» .
Yet, in August 1924, the matter of Mongolia-Tuva unity was placed at the Third Congress of the
MPRP. During its deliberations it became clear that the Mongol side wanted to include Tuvan territory into
the Mongolian People’s Republic. Almost all the Mongols were unanimous on the question of Tuva despite
objection made by Soviet representative A.N.Vasiliev at the Congress. He made it clear that the Russians
would not allow Mongols to regain Tuva. In the end, the Congress adopted a resolution seeking for a mixed
Russian-Mongolian Commission to settle the question of Tuva. Moscow agreed to send the mixed Commis-
sion and finally Mongolia’s aspirations were met on only one point. A very small sector of the Tuvan terri-
tory called, Darkhat was given to Outer Mongolia . But Mongolian side did not stop to lay claim over
Tuva as a whole. For instance, a Mongol leader, Amor is said to have told the MPR’s First Great Khural held
in November 1924 that «Uryankhai [Tuva] was part of Mongolia» At the Fourth MPRP Congress held
during September-October 1925, the Comintern representative, Amagaev was of the opinion that «... up to
this time the so-called ‘Uryankhai question’ has not been resolved. Perhaps Mongolia will require the union
of the Uryankhai people with it»
But, nothing substantial could be achieved and in July 1926, Soviet diplomatic initiatives resulted into
the signing of a treaty of friendship between the Tuva People’s Republic and the Mongolian People’s Repub-
lic. By this agreement Tuva was recognised as a fully equal and independent sovereign state, entirely sepa-
rate from the Mongolian People’s Republic. One month later, another treaty of friendship was signed be-
tween Tuva and the Soviet Union which was modelled on the Soviet-Mongolian agreement of November 5,
1921 . The agreement, among other things, included «reciprocal recognition of independence and ex-
change of representatives.» Thereafter, Soviet influence over Tuva remained undisturbed. Significantly, So-
viet policy in Tuva met with a positive response from the Tuvan leader Solchak Toka who became the Gen-
eral Secretary of the Central Committee of the TPRP in 1932. In fact, the government of Tuva headed by
Toka sought to integrate Tuva into the Soviet Union thrice, first in 1939, second in 1941 and the last in 1943
. But due to Soviet engagement in the Second World War, their petitions received a delayed response.
On August 17, 1944, a special session of the Little Khural of the TPR met and signed a petition ad-
dressed to the Moscow government requesting for the incorporation of Tuva into the USSR. The request was
approved on October 11, 1944 by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and two days later Tuva
was officially declared to have become an autonomous oblast of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Re-
public (RSFSR) . This was announced on November 1, 1944 at the Eighth Extraordinary session of the
Little Khural in the Tuvan capital Kyzyl . Later on by a decree issued on October 9, 1961 at the Presid-
ium of the Supreme Soviet of RSFSR, Tuva’s status of autonomous oblast had been transferred to autono-
mous republic known as Tuva ASSR. After the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Tuva retained its auton-
omy in 1993 as a Republic within the Russian Federation. The same year witnessed the adoption of a new
Tuvan constitution, the first post-perestroika constitution, which was written under Yeltsin’s slogan «Take as
much sovereignty as you can swallow»! The 1993 constitution created a parliament that became respon-
sible for foreign policy as well. The latest constitution, the ninth in its history since the first one came in to
existence in 1921, was adopted at an All-Republican Referendum on May 6, 2001. This document has be-
come the guiding principles for Tuva’s domestic and external affairs.
To sum up, Tuva’s incorporation into former USSR strengthened Russian hand in the Siberian region,
which touches the border with Mongolia thus keeping aside other powers in particular China from exerting
any influence in the region. It was more so because Tuva had traditionally been regarded as part of Outer
Mongolia and hence the Chinese made their claims. For Mongolia, its aspirations of a Pan-Mongolian state
proved to be a major set back as it never came to be realized. The fact, however, remains that the Tuvans are
a Turkic speaking people with Mongol influences and are mainly adherent to Tibetan Buddhism, combined
with native Shamanism. Now this factor has been playing a major role in strengthening the Tuva-Mongolia
linkages in particular and Russia-Mongolia relations in general. This is more so because it may play a bigger
role in ensuring the safety of Siberia from any potential threat from the outside world. For Buddhism pro-
vides an excellent opportunity for the Siberian people to remain connected with the people of other Buddhist
nations, which in turn could contribute positively towards enhancing Russia’s stake in Asia.
Notes and References
1. «Putin Chose Tuva as a Holiday Place for his Honourable Guest,» at http://en.tuvaonline.ru/2007/08/16/1946_putin-in-tuva.html
2. Uryankhai, which means «distant forest people», came to be known as Tannu Tuva (Tangno Toba) since 1921 when it was pro-
claimed as an «independent republic» under Soviet influence. A bit later its official name became Tuvinian People’s Republic
(TPR). In 1944, it was absorbed into former USSR as an autonomous Oblast. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991 it became
the Republic of Tuva within the Russian Federation.
3. For more details on Soviet take over of Tuva, see Sharad K.Soni, Mongolia-Russia Relations: Kiakhta to Vladivostok, Delhi:
Shipra Publications, 2002, pp.73–80.
4. Robert A.Rupen, «The Absorption of Tuva,» In The Anatomy of Communist Takeovers, edited by T.T.Hammond, New Haven:
Yale University Press, 1975, p.145. The Chinese claims was inspired by the assumption that so long as Mongolia remained un-
der formal Chinese rule during Qing dynasty, Tuva being a part of one of the provinces of Mongolia thus belonged to China.
5. Great Soviet Encyclopedia, vol.26, 1977, p.523.
6. For more details, see Rupen (1975), pp.153–157.
7. Ibid., p.154.
8. Peter S.H.Tang, «Sino-Soviet Territorial Disputes: Past and Present,» Russian Review 28, no.4 (1969), p.406.
9. Robert A.Rupen, Mongols of the Twentieth Century, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964, p.74.
11. Robert A.Rupen, «Mongolian Nationalism: Part I,» Journal of Royal Central Asian Society.45 (1959), p.163.
13. Rupen (1975), p.150.
14. Ibid., p.159.
15. Toomas Alatalu, «Tuva- A State Reawakens», Soviet Studies.44, no.5 (1992), p.882.
16. David J.Dallin, The Rise of Russia in Asia, London: The World Affairs Book Club, 1950, p.138.
17. Ibid., p.137.
18. Peter S.H.Tang, Russian and Soviet Policy in Manchuria and Outer Mongolia, 1911–1931, Durham NC: Duke University Press,
19. Albert L.Weeks, The Other Side of Co-existence: An Analysis of Russian Foreign Policy, New York: Pitman Publishing Co.,
20. See Morgen Mongush, «The Annexation of Tannu Tuva and the Formation of Tuva ASSR,» Central Asian Survey.12, no.1
22. Rupen (1964), p.75.
24. See Rupen (1975), pp.159–160.
25. Cited in Ibid. 26. Bol’shaya Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya (Great Soviet Encyclopedia), 3rd ed., vol.29, Moscow, 1977, p.284, cited in Alatalu
27. Cited in Tang (1959), p.410.
29. Dallin (1950), p.84–85.
30. Ibid., p.85.
31. Cited in Mongush (1993), p.82. In fact, it was on August 14, 1921 that the Tannu Tuva People’s Republic was proclaimed.
Later on, in 1926 the word Tannu, meaning taiga, was dropped to remain just as Tuva People’s Republic, see Alatalu (1992),
32. Cited in Rupen (1964), p.189.
33. Xenia J.Eudin and Robert C.North, Soviet Russia and the Far East, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1957, p.259.
34. Ibid., p.258.
35. Rupen (1975), pp.159–160.
36. Friters G.M., Outer Mongolia and Its International Position, Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1949, p.130.
37. Alatalu (1992), p.884.
38. Friters (1949), p.131.
39. Cited in Rupen (1964), p.189.
41. Robert M.Slussar and Jan F.Triska, A Calendar of Soviet Treaties, 1917–1957, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1959, p.57.
42. Mongush (1993), p.83.
45. «Tuva celebrates Constitution Day,» http://en.tuvaonline.ru/2007/05/06/constitution-day.html