The Russian curse hit full throttle when, some ninety years ago, Stalin selected a Mongolian stooge by the name of Choybalsan to become his puppet in Mongolia. Some 30,000 Buddhist lamas were executed under Stalin’s direction to create a classless society. Two of the leading lamas, Luvsanhamchig and Damdin, await the announcement of their death penalty. We can thank Baabar and his followers who made the Twentieth Century Mongolia the authoritative source on this dark period that it is. There was a river of blood on the hands of Stalin and Choybalsan but none of it was out of character for Stalin.
In 1946, The Soviet Union officially recognized Mongolia as an independent country though it was a vassal Russian state until 1990 when The Soviet Empire collapsed. According to Putin that day was the darkest day in any history book. Genghis Khan, a true warrior leader, would have argued with that observation. Putin, in fact, was a low-level KGB officer in East Germany until he hitched his star to the declining drunkard Yeltsin. Putin’s mission was to keep Yeltsin safe from any misfortune following the free-wheeling massive wealth created during his era via Russian state asset privatizations. However, Putin was observant as he once remarked to a Russian associate of mine standing in a receiving line that it was time he stopped smoking. Nonetheless, it was a great opportunity for aspiring oligarchs to buy shares in valuable Russian oil companies distributed to the “unwashed” citizens for a few sausages. Permneftegaz, our Russian partner in the Urals, was privatized in that manner by some smooth-talking former KGB officers.
Stalin did buy an insurance policy in 1946 when he chose to recognize Mongolia as an independent state. The infamous Choybalsan is seated at the table while Molotov is standing behind him. You can only suspect that Molotov promised Choybalsan a special cocktail if he did not do as he was told. Mongolia remained under the control of Russia but enabled the rest of the uncaring world to believe it was not a part of China which was Stalin’s objective.
Mongolia broke free in 1991 and “Buddha Bill,” with his jacket under his arm, and “Indiana Jones” hopped on a very fatigued Russian helicopter to check out the oil fields in the Gobi Desert that the Russians had abandoned.
You might imagine that the concept of the Gobi Desert might be appealing but life there, as shown from above, is not remotely like that compared to the Mongolian mountains to the northwest and the steppe grasslands to the northeast. Notice the resident “gers” look out of place with fences around them.
The Russians found some oil in the Gobi Desert and then built a refinery to process it into “mazut,” a low-grade gasoline, diesel for the train and kerosene for the “ger” lamps of Mongolia. At some point, the refinery had an explosion and the powers that existed at that time sent the Russians home and abandoned the facilities to the vagaries of the environment. You will note in the left foreground the tanks are leaking crude oil but that is a drop in the bucket compared to the oil wells that continue to produce oil into the desert.
In the oil industry, there are proper ways to abandon oil wells. They do not include walking away following a stick of dynamite thrown down the well bore which does not staunch the oil flow.
Moreover, if the dynamite just happened to blow the pumping unit over without stopping the oil flow on to the desert, well – that was just one of those things as shown below.
As we fret over oil pipeline incidents and environmental disasters, they are just a matter of course in many parts of the world. Fortunately, they are in isolated areas so we pristine people are not offended by the conduct of man. Nonetheless, we were in Russia many years and never encountered anything like this situation. The Russians are less caring about others than themselves though Chernobyl was just another blip on their radar screen to cover up.
In any event, Bill and I went to Manila to meet with the Asian Development Bank to see if there were any remedial funds to clean up the Gobi Desert mess, but we were not successful. Sadly, our luggage did not join us when we landed in Manila so we had no tropical clothing much less anything else. Despite the lack of appropriate clothing, it was an interesting visit as the US Embassy vehicles were all armor-plated. I found that strange in that it was a first experience for me in what I assumed was a pretty passive country compared to the list of war-torn places I had visited prior to Manila. However, the metal scanner to enter the hotel had a sign to unload and check all weapons at the door.