A country in central Asia, bordered by Siberia, Russia on the north and China on the south. It was formerly known as Outer Mongolia (Inner Mongolia is now an autonomous region of China).
Mainly a high, barren plateau, Mongolia has mountains and saline lakes in the north-west and the Gobi Desert in the south-east. In winter it is very cold, and rainfall is light. Even so, there are areas of steppe on which livestock can be supported, and some grain is grown.
Mongolia is currently making the transition from a planned to a free-market economy. The country's former dependence on aid from the Soviet Union, and on Soviet imports of fuel, equipment, and spare parts, has left a difficult economic legacy. The predominantly nomadic pastoral economy is based on animal-breeding, with meat, livestock, and wool the main exports. However, agriculture, particularly cereal production, is being extended. Mineral resources such as fluorite and copper are exploited.
Although Mongolia is named after the Mongols, up to the 12th century they only controlled a small area near the sources of the Orkhon River, and other nomadic tribes, such as the Merkit and Naiman, held greater power in the Eastern steppes. In the 13th century, however, the Mongols swept out to create the Mongol empire. In the 16th century they were converted to Lamaism. During the 17th century the Manchus won control of Inner and then of Outer Mongolia.
Outer Mongolia remained part of the Chinese empire until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, although Russia mounted an increasingly strong challenge for the area in later years. While the neighbouring region of Inner Mongolia remained in Chinese hands, Outer Mongolia seized independence in 1911 and reasserted it after brief Chinese and White Russian occupations in 1919–21. Outer Mongolia became communist in 1924 as the Mongolian People's Republic and remained so, following a policy of alliance with the Soviet Union. In July 1990 it became a multiparty democracy, but the Communist Party, now the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), retained power under Dashiyn Byambasuren. Trade with the former Soviet Union fell and, with price deregulation, an economic crisis developed, leading to rationing of basic foodstuffs. In 1992 the Prime Minister successfully negotiated commercial cooperation with Russia. The country, now called the State of Mongolia, adopted a new democratic constitution, which legalized private ownership. A general election, held in 1992, was again won by the MPRP. Punsalmaagiyn Ochirbat, first elected President in 1990, was re-elected in 1993, in the first direct presidential elections. However, in subsequent elections in 1996, the opposition Democratic Union coalition won a landslide victory and formed the first non-Communist administration for over 70 years. In 1997 Natsagiin Bagabandi was elected President. The Communists won the 2000 legislative elections and returned to power; however, they were obliged to rule in coalition after the indecisive 2004 elections. Their leader, Nambaryn Enkbayarh, was elected President in 2005.
Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)
1,566,500 sq km (604,800 sq miles)