Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW: Russia has for the first time waded into the decades-long standoff between China and the Tibetan relegious leader Dalai Lama, calling for normalisation of their relations.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it would be in the Russian interests if Beijing and the Dalai Lama normalise their relations.

“We know that the Chinese leadership is keenly interested in the Dalai Lama discarding any political activity and dissociating himself from the separatist agenda. We have a stake in normalisation between Beijing and the Dalai Lama,” Mr. Lavrov told the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of Parliament.

He said attempts to politicise the Dalai Lama's spiritual mission did not facilitate his normal interaction with Russian Buddhists. Moscow in 2004 allowed the Dalai Lama to come to Russia to meet his followers, but last month refused to issue him a visa in deference to Beijing's objections. There are some 700,000 Buddhists in Russia and their leaders said they would urge the Kremlin to revoke its ban.

Mr. Lavrov said Moscow would let the Dalai Lama come to Russia provided his visit would be sanitised from any political associations.

“If all parties make efforts to free purely pastoral contacts from political tones, we are ready to cooperate,” he said. Russia has always recognised Tibet as integral part of China and until now has never commented on relations between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama.

Experts said the shift in Moscow's position was due to the Dalai Lama's efforts to preach non-violence and oppose calls for armed struggle against Beijing.