Saturday, May 21, 2022

Many Incorrectly and Unfairly Classify Buryats as Loyal Soldiers of Putin’s War in Ukraine, Buddhist Activist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – Because the Russian defense minister is half Buryat, because Buryatia is known to have excessive crimes, and because individual Buryat soldiers have been involved in atrocities in Ukraine, many there and elsewhere are inclined to classify them as totally loyal foot soldiers in Putin’s war in Ukraine, Feliks Shvedovsky says.

            That is perhaps not surprising at a time of war when there is a widespread tendency to paint everything in black and white and to ignore nuances, the longtime Russian Buddhist activist who is a political émigré from Russia and a refugee from Ukraine says. But it ignores some important realities (

            Most Buryats are Buddhist, Shvedkovsky says, and those who are not are nonetheless infused with Buddhist values, including opposition to the use of force. Consequently, although this doesn’t get much attention now, many Buryats, as well as other Buddhists in the Russian Federation, are very much opposed to Putin’s war in Ukraine and have in fact protested the war.

            He acknowledges that there are a disproportionate number of Buryats in the Russian forces in Ukraine but points out that most are there because they are trying to escape the horrible poverty they experience at home and see time in the military as the best or in many cases only way to escape.

            Some may have committed atrocities in Ukraine, but they did so not as Buryats but as Russian soldiers, Shvedkovsky says. That makes them different than the pro-Moscow Chechens with whom they are sometimes conflated who do in fact act independently and with impunity because of Kadyrov’s relationship with Putin.

            But it is important for all concerned that both Ukrainians and people of good will elsewhere not fall into a propaganda trap laid by Moscow which is only too happy to see Ukrainians place more blame on the non-Russians in its military than on the Russians who are after all the dominant component of the invaders.

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