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US non-profit organizations shut down offices in Russia and took the Russian personnel out of the country

January 30, 2013, 11:39 UTC+3
Non-profit organizations personnel said their executives were concerned about possible political persecution
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30/1 Tass

MOSCOW, January 30 (Itar-Tass) -

US non-profit organizations shut down offices in Russia and took the Russian personnel out of the country

The U.S. non-profit organizations National Democratic Institute /NDI/ and International Republic Institute /IRI/ not only shut down their offices in Russia, but also took the Russians who had worked there out of the country, sources told the newspaper Kommersant.

Non-profit organizations personnel said their executives were concerned about possible political persecution. The United States has not commented on these statements so far.

NDI and IRI closed their Russian offices in late 2012, the newspaper reminds. At that time, IRI chief Senator John McCain explained the decision by tougher Russian laws on NPOs and Russian authorities' revenge for the "Magnitsky Act." However, the USA, worried about the future of Russian NPO personnel, went as far as taking them out of the country to Lithuania, together with their families.

They evacuees are seven staff (including the office directors Tamerlan Kurbanov and Natalia Budayeva). "NDI has left in Russia only the accountant who works under power of attorney and performs the minimal function, i.e. composes financial statements. However, the NDI leadership is seriously concerned about his fate, too," a Russian employee said on conditions of anonymity.

According to the Kommersant's source, agents of the Federal Security Service began to frequent the NDI and IRI executives. "We were working in a situation of mounting nervousness. The central office in the USA was aware that the atmosphere here was becoming increasingly hostile," a NPO staffer said, "given the fact that our work is being foiled, they decided to shut down the Russian office. And knowing that we were threatened with high treason accusations, the leadership suggested our leaving the country and arranged our relocation to Lithuania."

The main reason behind the concerns for the future of NDI and IRI personnel were amendments to the penal code articles on high treason and espionage, passed by the State Duma lower house of the Russian parliament in the autumn of 22012. Under the document, the person who provides consulting aid to a foreign organization may face up to 20 years in jail, if it is proven that this organization engaged in the activity aimed against the security of the Russian Federation. "Representatives of security bodies hinted that the new law on high treason envisions broad interpretation, which they might use, if necessary," U.S. NPO personnel said.

In Russia, NDI and IRI ran programs to develop a democratic society, held seminars of foreign specialists and arranged trips of Russian politicians to elections in foreign states. "It was an important experience in teaching political technologies; a majority of successful Russian political technologies had come through NDI and IRI programs," said Sergei Markov, a former United Russia lawmaker and a political scientist, with a ten-year employment record at NDI as senior consultant.

"It's an unprecedented decision; there have been no similar examples in Russia in the recent years for sure," political analyst Alexei Makarkin said in comments on NDI and IRI personnel emigration, "the Americans' logic is understandable: Russia will not sever diplomatic relations with the USA, but will take revenge for the "Magnitsky Act," by other possible means. If they pass laws on foreign agents and NPOs, it's not worth taking risks and waiting for these laws to be applied."

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