As U.S. Commitment to Persecuted Christians Wavers, Russia Steps In

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Easter service in Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russia, early Sunday, April 16, 2017. (Credit: Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

As the leadership role of the United States in the Middle East falters, Russia has reiterated its commitment to bringing peace and stability to the region – and safeguarding its Christian communities and heritage.

At the third Mediterranean Dialogues (MED) summit in Rome on Dec. 1-2, policy makers and experts from all over the world met to discuss the leading issues in the Mediterranean: Mainly migration, terrorism and development.

Speaking at the conference, Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of the Russian Federation, presented the Kremlin’s plan for the Middle East and its special focus on protecting religious minorities.

“It’s peace. It’s stability. It’s conditions for development. It’s openness to the outside world,” the veteran Russian diplomat said about his country’s goals for the region. “It’s also keeping the centuries-long tradition of ethnic and confessional groups of different natures living together.

“The future of Christians in the Middle East is very important.”

Lavrov pointed to the Christian minorities in the area as “the group that’s suffered the most,” because of the violent and destructive attacks by terrorist militias and the diaspora that followed, which risks completely eliminating the Christian presence in the region.

The current administration in the U.S. has been struggling with marrying its ‘America First’ economic nationalism with its intention of aiding religious minorities and stabilizing the Middle East.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which includes considerable cuts to foreign aid, was met with concern by those who would like to see stronger American support for the Christian population in Syria and Iraq.

Most of U.S. humanitarian aid in the region, about $1 billion, is currently funneled through the United Nations, but on-the-ground organizations have voiced ‘frustration’ over the reconstruction process in the Nineveh Valley, the ‘cradle of Christianity’ in Iraq that was largely torn down during the ISIS occupation in 2015.

“We simply don’t see [the reconstruction] on the ground in any meaningful way,” said Steve Rasche, the legal counsel and director of IDP resettlement programs for the Chaldean Catholic Archdiocese of Erbil, Iraq in an October interview with Crux. He also pointed to a “disconnect” between the people on the ground in Iraq and the organizations paying for the reconstruction.

Partly as a response to the lack of intervention by the international community, the three major Christian churches of Iraq – the Chaldean Catholics, Syrian Catholics, and Syrian Orthodox – have formed the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee to work together in unity to preserve their respective Churches.

This network, supported by Aid to the Church in Need and the Knights of Columbus, has had a leading role in promoting the restoration of the area and advocating the importance of maintaining a Christian presence in the Middle East.

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Claire Giangravè