Russia steps into Syria elections virtually unnoticed

By June 3, 2014
(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/Beshroffline)

(Photo courtesy Flickr/CC/Beshroffline)

Syria (MNN) — Today, Syria joins regional neighbors Egypt, Afghanistan, and Turkey in choosing a new national leader. The Syria elections have drawn much controversy.

Critics–including Western powers–claim the voting process is a farce and a complete mockery of democracy. Assad allies including Russia, Iran, and China support “whoever is elected by the Syrian people.”

But therein lies the draw: Syria’s three-year civil war has uprooted approximately 9 million people and killed an additional 150,000.

Syrian refugees aren’t counted as “eligible voters,” and most of Syria’s internally displaced citizens have lost their documentation of citizenship during the war–documentation required by law to vote.

Russian officials are on-the-ground today in Damascus, “observing and monitoring” the highly-controversial voting process. According to Russian state media–otherwise known as Putin’s “propaganda machines,” members of the Russian Central Elections Commission (CEC) were invited by Syria to monitor the elections.

“There [are] a lot of good reasons for Russia to get involved,” notes Lindsay Vessey, Executive Director of the Venn Institute. “What their end game is, I’m not exactly sureā€¦but at least they’re doing something to help the persecuted Christians there.”

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

(Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Special Envoy for the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, claims Russia is looking out for the fate of Syria’s Christians. Speaking at a UN Security Conference in Moscow two weeks ago, Bogdanov mentioned his country’s concern about the mass exodus of Christians from the region.

“They truly are concerned, I believe, about what’s happening to Orthodox Christians in Syria. And that’s the majority of Christians in Syria,” shares Vessey, explaining how Russia’s Orthodox Church plays a part in national politics.

“Putin is a smart guy, and he knows that he can get more support at home with the Orthodox Christians by supporting suffering Orthodox Christians elsewhere.”

There’s a “reversal of roles” between the U.S., a former advocate of religious freedom, and Russia, which avidly persecuted people of faith as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), Vessey adds.

And, while it’s not entirely clear why Russian President Vladimir Putin is supporting Syria’s Christians, Vessey says, “The benefit of what he’s doing is: he’s actually helping persecuted Christians. And that’s something the Obama administration has failed at miserably.”

Current Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is likely to win another seven-year term, which means little will change for Christians. Will you add them to your prayer list? “Pray for the protection of Christians and that they will be able to persevere,” requests Vessey.

Pray for children growing up in the midst of war, and the scores of Syrian women who’ve been abused. Pray also that people will come to know Christ despite violent persecution of believers.

(Photo courtesy International Mission Board)

(Photo courtesy International Mission Board)

“During this time of turmoil, it’s also a time where people are searching, and are more open to the Gospel,” Vessey shares.

The Venn Institute advocates for the religious freedom of all faiths on the international level. Vessey formed the group after spending years speaking up for persecuted Christians with Open Doors USA.

“It’s the most effective way, really, to help Christians: by supporting religious freedom for all people,” she shares.

Learn more about the Venn Institute here.

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