Russia and Mongolia join to celebrate 1939 victory over Japan
Thursday, 27 August 2009

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Mongolian host on Wednesday honoured veterans on the 70th anniversary of a key pre-World War II battle in which Soviet and Mongolian forces defeated Japan.

Medvedev and Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj laid wreaths at a monument in Ulan Bator honouring Georgy Zhukov, who led the combined forces into a tank battle against the Japanese near the Khalkhyn Gol river in 1939.

"This is truly our common victory," Medvedev said, praising the "spirit of trust and the spirit of support" binding the two nations.

"The Soviet and Mongolian soldiers fought for the right cause."

The Russian leader, who arrived on Tuesday for a two-day visit, bestowed medals on veterans from both countries at the ceremony, which ended with a Soviet-era anthem played by a Mongolian military band.

According to official estimates, more than 18,500 Soviet and Mongolian soldiers died, while Japan lost about 60,000 soldiers.

The ceremonies come as the world prepares to mark the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II in September.

Elbegdorj said the Mongolian people would never forget the "military aid rendered by the Soviet Union and the Soviet people".

"Mongolia remembers the decisive role played by the Soviet Union in the defeat of fascism," he said.

Mongolian veteran Damdinzhav Tsagaan, bedecked in military medals, beamed with pride at his role in the battle, and the strong ties between the neighbouring states.

"I believe that our two countries will be united forever," said 100-year-old Tsagaan, who wore traditional Mongolian dress and hat.

Another veteran, 93-year-old Gendendarzhan Tsogt, said: "Japan would have conquered Mongolia if not for the Soviets. We all remember this."

Russian infantry veteran Yury Zavidonov, 88, who travelled from Moscow to join the celebrations, said: "It was a victory that slightly cooled the Japanese and their belligerent spirit."

The event comes as Russia seeks to revive ties with Mongolia, a former Soviet satellite that is rich in mineral resources such as coal, gold, copper and uranium.

On Wednesday, the two countries agreed to form a joint venture to exploit the Dornod uranium deposit.

Other nations are vying to obtain access to Mongolia's vast resources, but Medvedev suggested Moscow had a competitive edge due to historical ties between the countries: "History is such a stubborn thing that can be neither forgotten nor changed."

The Mongolian president said the bilateral ties had been "sealed by the blood and sweat of our peoples."

Medvedev's visit comes just three months after one by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, highlighting the importance Moscow is placing on breathing new life into ties with Mongolia, which lies between Russia and China.

In honour of the Russian president, Mongolia staged a mini-version of its traditional Naadam festival featuring horse racing, wrestling and archery in the steppe outside Ulan Bator.

Medvedev tried his hand with a bow and arrow, and drank fermented horse milk, a popular beverage in Mongolia.

The two presidents also observed joint military exercises on the outskirts of the capital.

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