Eastern Europe (MNN) — Like a global game of chess, Russia’s about to take another “pawn” in Eastern Europe.
South Ossetia – a self-ruling republic like Crimea – announced yesterday a desire to reunite with Mother Russia.
“The separatist leader of Georgian breakaway region South Ossetia has proposed plans to hold a referendum on whether the region should join Russia, in a move that has left observers guessing as to who is behind the move: South Ossetia or Moscow,” The Independent’s Nadia Beard pens.
It’s not the first time Russia has played puppeteer with the former Soviet territory.
In March, Russia took control of South Ossetia’s security, military and customs services. At that time — a year after Russia’s annexation of Crimea — South Ossetia’s President Leonid Tibilov stated, “South Ossetia welcomes all political steps that Russia’s leadership makes.”
And yet, “Since his election as de factor president in April 2012, Tiblov has consistently maintained the need to preserve South Ossetia’s nominally independent status,” RFERL’s Liz Fuller observes.
“By contrast, his defeated rival in that ballot, Anatoly Bibilov, called in January 2014 for a referendum on South Ossetia’s incorporation into Russia.”
The good news amid changing political tides and Russian advancements? As Russia’s shadow grows in Eastern Europe, so does the Church.
“In the middle of the crisis, we are seeing people come to faith,” shares Slavic Gospel Association’s Eric Mock.
Meanwhile, in Crimea…
With the world’s attention diverted, Russian authorities are reportedly squashing religious freedom in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently reported, “Other than the Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate, no religious community in Crimea has remained unscathed.”
As of Russia’s annexation in 2014, all religious communities are required to register with the government. In addition, authorities have been using Russia’s “anti-extremism law” to target and harass religious minorities.
This persecution is nothing new, though, Mock observes. It actually harkens back to the Soviet era. Under Soviet rule, “To be a Baptist was seen as counter to ‘the good of the people,’” Mock explains.
“The ‘good of the people’ [today is] the Russian Orthodox Church.”
Anything other than the Russian Orthodox Church is therefore opposed. By USCIRF count, at least seven Protestant Christians have been either killed or abused in the past year.
“In the midst of that, even though there’s persecution…it has brought a spotlight onto the faithful, Bible-teaching churches as they reach out into their communities,” shares Mock.
“We’re seeing people searching for answers. Hardship often opens the door for people to cry out to God,” Mock says.
“The Gospel gives us that peace in the middle of that storm; and so, in the middle of the crisis, we are seeing people come to faith.”
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