His Holiness the Dalai Lama visiting the remote southern republic of Kalmykia in 2004. (Photo/AFP)
DHARAMSHALA, August 1: In what is being viewed as a possible shift in Russia’s diplomatic position, President Vladmir Putin said his government will “work in the direction” of inviting the Dalai Lama.
President Putin acknowledged the wishes of the people of Russia's predominantly Buddhist region of Kalmykia on the Caspian Sea of inviting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
"Of course we understand the people of Kalmykia who are awaiting the Dalai Lama's arrival," Putin said Tuesday during an annual youth gathering at the Lake Seliger camp in Tver region.
"We will work in this direction," the Russian President said without offering any time frame of a potential visit or other details.
Last year, a request by Buddhist leaders in Kalmykia to allow the Dalai Lama to visit Russia was denied. In an official response, Moscow had said that a “visit by the Dalai Lama to Russia would be taken particularly painfully by Beijing.”
“For those who are not familiar with the details of this issue, I can say that this problem is related to the fact that the Dalai Lama is viewed more as a political leader than a religious one,” Putin said while responding to a question from a Kalmyk youth.
The last time the 77-year-old Tibetan Nobel laureate visited the country was in 2004, when his visa was initially denied but later granted.
The vast majority of Russia’s estimated 1.3 million Buddhists follow Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama made his maiden trip to the Soviet Union in 1979 followed by visits until the mid-nineties after which Moscow’s trade with China became increasingly important.
In 2006, President Kirsan Nikolayevich llyumzhinov of the Republic of Kalmykia presented the Dalai Lama with the “White Lotus Order,” Kalmykia’s highest civilian award.
At the request of a group of Russians, in December this year, the Dalai Lama will be giving teachings in Dharamshala. Thousands of Russians have attended the teachings, which have almost become a yearly event.