Analysis: Russia Wins Mongolian Uranium Mining Concessions

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"Russia and Mongolia are committed to launching joint investment projects in the mining industry 'as soon as possible.'"

While the Western press has largely fixated on the intense international struggle over the Caspian's hydrocarbon riches, farther east in Mongolia another rivalry is brewing between Russia and competitors for another valuable energy source—uranium. Moscow has established a commanding lead to develop the country's energy reserves, and its dominance seems likely only to grow with time.

Underscoring the Kremlin's interest, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrived in Mongolia on Wednesday for a one-day visit, during which he held talks with Mongolian Prime Minister Sanjaa Bayar, President Nambaryn Enkhbayar and Damdin Demberel, chairman and speaker of the State Great Hural, Mongolia's parliament.

Putin commented during a news conference following the Russian-Mongolian talks, "I believe we will be able to implement our agreements in the field of joint production and processing of uranium ore," adding that Russia and Mongolia are committed to launching joint investment projects in the mining industry "as soon as possible."

Russian development of Mongolia's nascent massive uranium deposits will not be a one-way street, however. Bayar said during his meeting with Putin, "The two countries agreed to pay more attention in promoting Mongolia's mineral resources sector and its infrastructure, and Mongolia intends to speed up cooperation with Russia in exploitation of nuclear energy for peace purposes." To that end, among the items on the bilateral agenda is discussion of a joint Russian-Mongolian venture for processing nuclear fuel, which Putin said was "a matter of several weeks."

Besides Russia, Japanese, Canadian, Kazakh and French companies have expressed interest in Mongolia's uranium, but Putin's largesse definitively seems to have clinched the deal.

If Russia's diplomatic sleight of hand has deprived foreign companies of an opportunity to extract uranium, Mongolia's mineralogical treasure chest still contains consolation prizes for foreign investors, as the country is rich in significant copper, coal, gold, molybdenum, fluorspar, uranium, tin and tungsten deposits.

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