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Russia’s sanctioning of Dalai Lama’s envoy seen as meant to flatter China

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(TibetanReview.net, Feb01’23) – Russia’s Justice Ministry has sanctioned Telo Tulku Rinpoche, the spiritual head of the country’s Kalmyk Buddhists and envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as a foreign agent. The ministry has cited his criticism of the invasion of Ukraine among the reasons for its decision. However, it is understood that the decision is meant also to flatter Beijing with which Moscow is supposed to have stuck a “no-limits” friendship and from which it seeks greater support for its so-called Special Military Operation in Ukraine.

The new law, signed by President Vladimir Putin in Jul 2022 and which took effect in Dec 2022, broadens the definition of foreign agents to include those who engage in activism or express opinions about Moscow’s policies or the conduct of officials, if authorities can indicate they are “under foreign influence,” noted the rfa.org Jan 31.

The Justice Ministry’s charge-sheet for placing Rinpoche on its list of foreign agents said he “spoke against the Special Military Operation, openly supported Ukraine, is a US citizen, and lives outside of Russia,” an online article by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta has said.

The forcing out of the leader of the Buddhist community of Kalmykia had more to do with Moscow’s wanting to show deference to Beijing by getting rid of someone closely linked to the Dalai Lama and the cause of the restoration of the independence of Tibet than his criticism of Putin’s war in Ukraine, Paul Goble, a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia, has said in an Op-Ed on eurasiareview.com Feb 1.

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Following his listing, Rinpoche has said he was resigning his post as the spiritual head of Russia’s Kalmyk Buddhists, requesting that all his duties be transferred to Tendzin Choidak, the leader of the religious organization  — called the Kalmyk Central Buddhist Monastery of Geden Sheddup Choi Korling — and the administrator Yonten Lodoi.

Rinpoche has been the Supreme Lama of Kalmykia since 1992, serving as spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhists in the region on the western shore of the Caspian Sea.

However, he will retain his position as the Dalai Lama’s envoy to Russia.

“My name as the head lama of Kalmykia is listed in that statement and not as a representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Russia, Rinpoche has told rfa.org.

“So, as far as the responsibilities as the representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama are concerned, nothing has changed, and we are carrying out our duties as usual.”

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Russia’s foreign-agent registry includes Russian journalists, popular singers, religious figures and human rights activists, the report noted.

As regards what the listing means, Rinpoche has said Russian authorities have detained many people listed on the registry, while others have fled the country or have remained inside but live as fugitives.

“I am sure if I return to Russia, I will be prosecuted and detained for at least 10 to 15 years,” he has told rfa.org.

Rinpoche, a US citizen, is currently in India and plans to stay in it for the time being, the report said.

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During an interview in Oct 2022 on the YouTube channel “Alchemy of the Soul”, Rinpoche has said Russia’s war against Ukraine was wrong and that the Ukrainians had the right to defend their country.

“It is the people of Ukraine’s rightful sovereignty and human rights to protect their freedom and country and also fight back against Russia. … I said this loud and clear to an online media interview earlier in October, so this is the reaction of the Russian government,” rfa.org quoted him as saying.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said Jan 30 that Moscow was anticipating a visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping this spring.

“As it is known, Russian President VV Putin invited Chinese leader Xi Jinping to a government visit in the spring. We are proceeding with the understanding that this will be the central event for the bilateral relationship in 2023,” time.com Jan 31 quoted the ministry as saying in a statement.


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