Monday, January 30, 2023

Kalmyk Buddhist Leader’s Ouster as Much about China as about Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Jan. 27 – By labeling Erdin Ombadykov, the leader of the Buddhist community in Kalmykia, the CIS and Mongolia for 30 years, a foreign agent for criticizing Putin’s war in Ukraine, Moscow has forced him to retire, opening the way for a more pliant Buddhist in Kalmykia and giving the Buddhist leadership in Buryatia an opening to a broader role.

            But as important as the domestic consequences of Ombadykov’s departure may prove, it almost certainly reflects less his criticism of the war than Moscow’s increasing deference to China, given that Ombadykov, earlier studied with the Dalai Lama in India and is close to the Tibetan cause China wants to suppress (

            Indeed, it appears that the Kalmyk Buddhist leader’s criticism of the war was more an occasion than a cause for his forced retirement. Ombadykov’s replacement will be elected by the Kalmyk Buddhist community, but it is unlikely that he will have the views or the influence outside of that republic that the former leader did.

            Until a new leader is chosen, the supervision of Buddhist life in that North Caucasus republic will be temporarily divided between the head of the Buddhist monastery there, Mutul Ovyanov, and one of the monks of that monastery, Sergy Kirishov.

            Unlike Orthodox Christians but resembling Muslims and Jews, the Buddhists of the Russian Federation have no single religious leader. The Kalmyk establishment is only one of three officially registered groups. The others are organized around the Buryat and Tuvin communities.

            Unlike the Kalmyk organization which up to now viewed itself as a representative of the Dalai Lama in Eurasia, the leaders of the Buryat and Tuvin communities have declared themselves independent of the Dalai Lama and have not spoken out in support of Tibet. Not surprisingly, Moscow hasn’t attacked either of them.

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