RUSSIA: US Volunteer Missionary Deported.

by Geraldine Fagan, Keston News Service, 29 August 2001

An American Protestant carrying out religious work on a voluntary basis in the capital of the Republic of Udmurtia, Izhevsk (700 miles east of Moscow), was deported from Russia on 21 July. Craig Rucin explained to Keston on 17 July that he had been summoned to the local OVIR office (the bureaucratic department which deals with registration of foreign citizens) the previous week and informed that he constituted 'a danger to the Russian Federation'. An OVIR official had told him that there was no obligation to give the reason for his deportation, said Rucin, since it was 'a matter of national security.'

With a one-year business visa valid until January 2002, Rucin had been working for a local cultural exchange company called 'Slovo' ('Word'), which gives courses in computer studies, Russian and English to both foreign and local citizens. Partly founded by a Florida-based Protestant missionary organisation, Pioneers, Slovo changed its name from 'Russian-American Christian Professionals Institute' and dropped the religious aspect of its work when it reregistered in 1998.

Attached to Pioneers on an individual basis, Rucin told Keston that while in Izhevsk he had additionally given free training to local Protestant pastors, which he stressed had taken place 'in the evenings and at weekends - in my spare time - which should be within my rights.' The 1997 Russian law on religion is hazy in this area. While Article 20, Part 2 states that 'religious organisations have the exclusive right to invite foreign citizens for professional purposes', no conditions for non-professional or voluntary religious activity by foreign citizens are specified. Such activity would appear to come under the individual right to disseminate religious convictions guaranteed to foreign citizens legally present in the Russian Federation by Article 3, Part 1.

Speaking to Keston on 21 August, plenipotentiary for religious affairs in Udmurtia, Sergei Ilinsky, was unable to state definitively why Rucin had been expelled, but thought that it might be due to his religious activity. 'He came here as a teacher of English with Slovo - and religious work is not in accordance with that. It is a violation of his visa and the charter of that organisation.' Ilinsky evidently deemed Rucin's religious activity to be professional in status despite its voluntary nature, describing it as 'training up personnel for local Protestant churches.' It was perfectly in order for a missionary to do such work if invited by a local Protestant church, he said, and stressed that many such churches invited foreigners to preach and distribute literature in Udmurtia 'without problems.'

In Ilinsky's view, a further possible factor in Rucin's expulsion was that 'we don't have a simple republic here - it contains many military installations and there has always been a high degree of vigilance here.' Craig Rucin also pointed out to Keston that Udmurtia was a closed zone until perestroika due to its military installations, commenting 'they are paranoid about outsiders here.' Rucin's predecessor at Slovo and a lieutenant-colonel in the US army, Warren Wagner worked as a supervisor of weaponry disarmament in the Udmurt town of Votkinsk. On 10 August Wagner - who is now assistant to the president of Pioneers - wrote to Keston that he had been denied a visa to Russia in January 1999. 'The foreign ministry regional office in Izhevsk told Slovo representatives that they would not approve an invitation to me. Since then they have been told that I am under a five-year ban.'

Precisely how Rucin's activity could constitute a danger to the Russian Federation remains unclear. On 27 August the director of Slovo, Galina Aminova, told Keston that she believes his expulsion to be part of a broader anti-Protestant drive on the part of the Udmurt authorities (see separate KNS article). 'It is because he is foreign and a Christian,' she explained, 'I don't think there would have been a problem if he'd just been foreign - and we are the kind of Christians who do not sleep.' Rucin also pointed to allegedly FSB-inspired articles (see separate KNS article) in the Udmurt press claiming his religious work to be a front for the US government. 'They think my real aim is to change the hearts and minds of Russians so that they become more obedient to the US,' he told Keston. (END)