Kremlin Acknowledges Opposition by China; Buddhists Call Decision a Big Defeat
Washington Post, Aug. 17, 2002
By Susan B. Glasser
Washington Post Foreign Service
MOSCOW, Aug. 16 — The Russian government today refused to grant the Dalai Lama permission to visit Russia, reversing course after initially agreeing to allow the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader to come here for the first time in a decade.
The decision, a bow to China, was announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry late today. It will force the Dalai Lama to cancel his trip next month to three Buddhist regions in Russia close to the border with China. More than 1 million Buddhists live in Kalmykia, Tuva and Buryatia, but in what has become an annual exercise, Russia has routinely denied the Dalai Lama permission to visit his followers here.
Buddhist leaders, calling the decision a big defeat, suggested that the continuing refusal was an attempt to avoid offending the Chinese government, which has maintained strict control over Tibet since the Dalai Lama fled into exile in India in 1959 and views his travels as politically motivated.
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov is expected to visit China later this month. “We believe it’s connected to Kasyanov’s visit,” said Maya Malygina, one of the organizers of the Dalai Lama’s trip and an official of the Lama Tsongkhapa Buddhist Center here.
Russian officials acknowledged that Beijing’s opposition weighed heavily. “At this stage, it has been deemed appropriate to cancel the Dalai Lama’s visit to Russia,” Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Boris Malakhov said late today.
According to the Interfax news agency, Malakhov added, “In dealing with this matter, account should naturally be taken of the position of the People’s Republic of China, whose leadership takes a strongly negative attitude to the Dalai Lama’s political activities.” The official suggested that while Buddhist organizers had promised to make the trip to Russia purely religious, the “political essence” of the visit had begun to cause Russia concern. He cited the presence in the planned delegation of “representatives of the so-called government of Tibet in exile” and other nonreligious figures.
The Dalai Lama last visited Russia’s Buddhist regions in 1992. In 1995, he received a one-day transit visit through Moscow to visit Mongolia, but a similar transit visa was refused last year.