Staunton, Feb. 2 – The Kremlin may have felt it had no choice to push for the ouster of the long-time Buddhist leader of Kalmykia given his criticism of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, China’s unhappiness with a Buddhist leader in Russia so close to the Dalai Lama and the Kalmyk political leadership’s desire to have its own man in that position.
(On these various factors in Moscow’s calculations, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/01/kalmyk-buddhist-leaders-ouster-as-much.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2023/01/buddhism-becoming-protest-religion-in.html.)
But now that outside analysts have had a few days to digest the action, they are suggesting that the forced retirement of Telo Tulku Rinopoche as the chief lama of Kalmykia may lead to social and political instability in Kalmykia, a place that in the past has caused Moscow few problems.
There are two reasons for that. On the one hand, a major reason that republic head Batu Khasikov wanted the lama out was because the divine had suggested that Khasikov might not be a Buddhist at all, a serious problem in that Buddhist republic and one that will only intensify now that the governor has succeeded in ousting the lama.
And on the other, Rinopoche, who came from the United States and had been in office for 30 years stood above the divides within the Kalmyk nation. There are three basic groups – the Torguds, the Dyuvyuds and the Buza. The ousted lama had presented himself successfully as the lama of all Kalmyks. His successor is unlikely to be able to do so (ng.ru/kartblansh/2023-02-02/3_8651_kb.html).
That in turn means that these ethnic divisions will intensify and likely become the basis for or at least the occasion of political challenges to Khasikov, a development that could make it far more difficult for the incumbent governor to maintain control and thus transform his republic from an island of peace to a new hotspot in southern Russia.
Looming behind all this is another possibility that some experts now see likely. Andrey Terentyev, one of Russia’s leading specialists on Buddhism, says that he hopes that Ripoche who alone among Buddhist leaders knows all Buddhist regions inside Russia will remain as the Dalai Lama’s representative to that community (ng.ru/faith/2023-01-29/2_8646_lama.html).
If that happens – and as Ripoche is now in Mongolia beyond the immediate reach of Moscow, he may be able to do so – then the ousted lama could be in a position to play an even larger political role inside Russia than he has over the last three decades, yet another outcome Moscow hasn’t planned for and certainly doesn’t want.