Moscow’s “Russian-American Institute” is Up for Sale
Negotiations with the buyer are in their final stages
M o s c o w -- After a stressful construction period lasting nearly a decade, „Russian-American Institute’s” (RAI) new edifice in northeastern Moscow is up for sale. A buyer has been found and President John Bernbaum (Wheaton/USA) predicted on 5 October that the sale would be finalized “in two or three months”. At its dedication on 27 May 2010, the magnificent glass-and-brick structure at 40 Menzhinskogo Street had been described as the most beautiful and representative building in all of Russian Protestantism.
The impending sale awakened the concern of Alexander Semchenko (Moscow), Russia’s wealthiest Protestant businessman and bishop of the small “Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians” (STsEC). On 26 July he stated: “We are afraid this sale will mean the liquidation of RAI as we know it.” Bernbaum has assured the skeleton staff still working in a portion of the building that classes will be guaranteed at another location if the building is sold. Yet Semchenko, who was imprisoned in the early 1980s for engaging in illegal Christian printing, fears the roughly four million US-dollar profit from the sale would only cover the costs of instruction for a limited period. According to him, the heady dream born in 1990 of a Christian liberal-arts university in Russia’s capital would then suffer its final demise. RAI opened for business in 1995 and began its journey through four different rental locations in Moscow before ending at its present address.
The debt on the building is put at $7.8 million US. On 11 May, Semchenko offered to take over this debt if the building were officially given to STsEC. The businessman places its present, unconfirmed selling price at $17 million. Yet, after taxes, he estimates that only $4 million of that profit would remain if sold at this price. Since Semchenko only offered 46% of the actual market value, it is obviously more profitable to sell to a well-endowed, outside party. The entrepreneur had planned to pay off the $7.8 million debt with loans from three Russian banks.
As part of the sale, Semchenko’s STsEC intended to guarantee continued Christian instruction in a portion of the existing building. The businessman would also restore its original name: “Russian-American Christian University (called “Institute” in Russia). Russian observers were mystified when the original RACU name was dropped in 2009.
The impending sale has ruffled only a few feathers within Russia. The tepid, long-term response among Russia’s Protestants can be attributed in part to their lack of interest in liberal-arts Christian education. One Russian Protestant leader also observes: “We have tended to view RAI as a free-floating, foreign entity located somewhere between the Orthodox and Protestant worlds.” Semchenko stresses that he would be very concerned about remaking it into a clearly Russian Protestant one.
All RAI-board members are tight-lipped; they are according to one of its members “sworn to secrecy”. Yet one serious, non-board source claims the buyer is the 15-million-member “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” (Mormons). When confronted with this information, President Bernbaum did not refute it. Only after the sale will it be possible to confirm details.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 13 October 2012
A journalistic release appearing only in the name of its author. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any single institution. It may be reprinted free-of-charge. Release #12-23, 507 words, 3.214 keystrokes and spaces.
See 15 Feb. 2020 for an update on this university.