Putin Unlikely to Yield His Power

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CWN.com - Russia's constitution forbids current president, Vladimir Putin, from seeking another term.

But Putin is set to become Prime Minister where he'll continue to wield power. Russia has seen dramatic changes since he took office in 2000.

Economic growth spurred by oil and gas revenues put billions into government coffers and gave Moscow a facelift. For most city dwellers, living standards have improved and the country now boasts 53 billionaires.

"Eight years ago, salaries were delayed for months and pensions were not paid for years, and that's not the case any more," Nikonov told the Associated Press. "Russians live much better now than eight years ago, and actually, Russia has never been in better shape."

But underneath the surface, Russia still has massive social problems.

Poverty, along with drug and alcohol, are devastating families, and tens of thousands of homeless children live on the streets. Politically, the country is less free than eight years ago. The Kremlin controls the media and political opposition is stifled.

The government is also restricting the work of foreign NGOs - groups that promote democracy - as well as religious groups who help the poor.

Human Rights Watch says that as far as freedom is concerned, the country has gone backwards.

"What we've seen is the systematic rollback of democratic freedoms," said one analyst. "we have seen the systematic shrinking of space for civil society and the systematic regulation and control of democratic institutions."

But among the Russian population, Putin is extremely popular.

They see him as a strong leader who restored Russia to global prominence, and they approve of the fact that he will continue to rule the country from the prime minister's seat.

What about the Future of the Church in Russia?

Sergey Rakhuba is director of Russian Ministries, a U.S. based group that helps support and train church leaders in the former Soviet Union. He recently spoke with Christian World News anchor Wendy Griffith in our studio. He talked about religious freedom and the future of the Church in russia.

Watch the interview, following this report. Read the transcript below.

WENDY GRIFFITH: Sergey, I was in Russia right after the fall of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism, and it seemed like there was so much freedom, even more than in America, to spread the Gospel. Is there still that kind of freedom there?

SERGEY RAKHUBA: Lots of things have changed since 1992, 1994. The economy has improved a lot, people live better, the new generation is there. There are new threats to the new generation, and there is a kind of spiritual wilderness in terms that the young generation has a lot less interest in Christian values.

WG: Is the society still open to foreign missionaries coming over?

SR: The society, unfortunately, due to the current politics of the government, unfortunately, is not as open as it used to be to the ministry of foreign NGO's. And as of recently, the new regulation is out there to restrict the ministry of all foreign missionaries and foreign NGO's.

WG: What about the Russian churches themselves, are they facing new restrictions?

SR: There are lots of new restrictions of course. They are not allowed to go to schools, like they used to, to teach the Gospel, to witness to children to help them, because the Orthodox Church of Russia is trying to monopolize the religious activity, because they claim that Russia belongs to the Orthodox Church and vice versa.

And evangelicals are facing lots of difficulty in this regard. However, there are still lots opportunities for those who are active, evangelical next generation leaders. That's what Russian Ministries is doing, training them to go out and change their communities for Christ.

WG: Why would you say there are so many restrictions on the evangelicals now?

SR: Of course, the current government is very careful about evangelical or foreign evangelical NGOs influencing their country. Because the society believes that, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine was supported by foreign funds or Rose Revolution in Georgia, which is all near Russia.

So the Russian government is a little concerned that evangelical NGOs might do the same in Russia.

But I personally don't support this idea, because as a missionary, I believe that NGO's are out there to help the society, to help to raise children and young people.

WG: How can Christians in the West help our brothers and sisters in the Russian church?

SR: You know the Russian evangelical church is used to all kinds of persecutions, and together with our Orthodox brothers they went through the great persecution of the 30's, 40's, and 50's. And today, those who brought faithfulness into the next generation, those who remember the hard persecution, they say that the evangelical church under persecution is getting more faithful, more active in terms of following the values of biblical teaching.

So I would encourage all of our brothers and sisters here in the West to continue praying for the next generation of evangelical church leaders in Russia. And to help them have them enough wisdom and resources to continue leading the church into the future in Russia.

WG: Do you see revival coming to Russia at any point?

SR: You see, it's all in God's hands. And I believe that the God who brought Perestroika to Russia, is in charge today with the current government in Moscow. God can do anything, and we have to be faithful to follow His command. And His command is to go out and reach your neighbor for Him.

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