Russia's former Prime Minister and now First Deputy Chief Sergei Kiriyenko (Facebook)
Russia’s former Prime Minister and now First Deputy Chief Sergei Kiriyenko (Facebook)

A senior official in the Putin administration has acknowledged the “value” Protestants bring to Russian society, reports Radio Free Europe.

Marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, First Deputy Chief Sergei Kiriyenko said: “The followers of the Reformation idea appeared in our country immediately after it started. Those people contributed to our state’s flourishing and to the development of Russia’s science, education, and culture.”

His comments were interpreted by a religious persecution watchdog as a sign of hope for non-Orthodox Christians.

“Until now, the government of President Putin seemed to favour the Russian Orthodox Church only,” said Rolf Zeegers, analyst at Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit, referring to recent laws passed to restrict non-Orthodox Christians, including “one of the most restrictive”, the ‘Yarovaya law’ (named after one of its authors).

Also known as the ‘anti-missionary law’, it was adopted to fight extremism, although it has been used to bring cases against a growing number of Christians since it was introduced as a bill in July 2016.

“Of course we need to distinguish between traditional Protestantism like Lutheranism and Reformed Christianity, which Kiriyenko is praising, and the more recent branches like the Pentecostals, Evangelicals and Baptists, who are far more active in evangelism in Russia,” Zeegers said.

“It really needs to be seen if the Kremlin includes these last groups in their note of approval as well. I don’t expect this will be the case. And this means it will remain necessary to keep watch over developments in the country.”