Russian officials deny visa to Dalai Lama

Mix of politics, religion prompts switch reflecting complaints by China

August 17, 2002|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - The Russian government reversed course yesterday and denied a visa to the Dalai Lama, complaining that the exiled Tibetan leader mixes politics with religion to a degree unacceptable to China - and, by extension, to Russia.

"Evidence of this is, among other things, the inclusion in the delegation of members of the so-called Tibetan government-in-exile, artists and other figures," said Boris Malakhov, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

The ministry had previously indicated that it would approve the visit, which would be the Dalai Lama's first full official visit since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Tibetan leader made an unofficial visit to Buddhist regions in 1992 and received a transit visa for a journey to Mongolia in 1996. But a similar request for a transit visa was denied last year.

"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," Malakhov said.

China seized control of Tibet in 1950 and fears the influence of the Dalai Lama, who fled the region after Chinese forces crushed a rebellion in 1959.

Russian Buddhists reacted strongly to the visa decision.

"It looks as if China and its geopolitical interests are more important to the Kremlin than the needs of Russian Buddhists - who are, by the way, Russian citizens," said Antonina Kookuyeva, president of the Friends of Tibet society in the republic of Kalmykia, one of the stops on the Dalai Lama's canceled itinerary.

Russia has about 1 million Buddhists, mostly in the southern republics of Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia. They are descendants of Genghis Khan's Mongol horde, which swept into Europe in the 13th century, subjugating Russia for more than two centuries.

Dulma Shagdarova, chairwoman of the Association of Traditional Buddhist Communities, described the Russian decision as "outrageous." She pointed out that the Chinese complain to other countries about the Dalai Lama but that those complaints are usually ignored.

"The Russian government has treated the Dalai Lama in a very bad way - they canceled his visa as if he is some kind of a criminal who should not be allowed to enter the country," she said. "I am lost for words, really."

The regime of President Vladimir V. Putin, who took office in 2000, has run hot and cold on relations with China.

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