Wednesday, October 14, 2015

To Curry Favor with China, Moscow Expelling Tibetan Lamas Thereby Radicalizing Russia’s Buddhists

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 14 – The Russian authorities are moving to expel Tibetan lamas, many of whom have been serving the Buddhist nationalities of Russia for years to curry favor with China. But this policy carries serious risks: it offending many of many in Russia’s three historically Buddhist nationalities – the Buryats, the Tuvans, and the Kalmyks.

            Buddhists are widely assumed to be politically passive, but all three of these peoples in the early part of the 20th century and the Buddhists in Myanmar now show that there can be religious extremism among them as well. And consequently, riling them up for a foreign policy goal may prove counterproductive.

            Indeed, Moscow’s actions already having three obvious effects: First, the media in all three republics have given prominent play to Moscow’s moves to expel the lamas who have enjoyed enormous respect as religious leaders because of their training – one of the most prominent was trained by the Dalai Lama himself (

Second, they have led to unfavorable comparisons between the devout Tibetan lamas and the head of the official hierarchy within the Russian Federation who various Buddhist writers have suggested keeps himself in power less by being a religious leader than by currying favor with the powers that be via various economic activities (

And third, they have sparked interest among the Buddhists of the Russian Federation in their more radical ancestors, including those who made alliance with Baron Ungern, a convert to Buddhism who organized a league of militant Buddhists and conquered Mongolia in 1920-21 (

It is probably unlikely that the Buddhists of Russia today will follow the same path, but angering them by seeking to exile their spiritual leaders without providing anything adequate in return will do little to win Moscow sympathy in their ranks.  And it is certain that these Russian actions will attract attention of members of the international community concerned about Tibet.

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