MOSCOW: Two US pro-democracy groups have moved several employees and their families out of Russia over fears of persecution after the country passed new legislation on treason, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.
The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute took the largely unprecedented step of moving their seven Russian staffers and their families to Lithuania fearing they may be accused of treason, Kommersant daily said.
One of the employees who left Russia told the newspaper that following the adoption of the controversial legislation the heads of the Russian offices had come under pressure from officers of the FSB security service who paid them numerous visits.
"We were working in the situation of increasing nervousness," the employee of one of the two US organisations was quoted as saying on the condition of anonymity.
"In the US headquarters they knew about a growing hostile environment here. Proceeding from the fact that we were not allowed to work they decided to close the Russian office."
The employees of the US non-profit organisations were now in Lithuania awaiting visas, said Kommersant.
Should they fail to receive work visas in Lithunia, they would consider applying for political refugee status in other European Union member states, the newspaper added.
Both groups have closed down their Russian offices, although the National Democratic Institute still retains an accountant in the country, Kommersant said, adding the management was now worried about that employee's future.
The National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute (IRI) were pursuing a number of programmes promoting democracy in Russia. IRI chairman is John McCain, a US Senator known for his anti-Kremlin stance.
After his return to the Kremlin for a third term last year, Putin oversaw the adoption of a string of laws including the obligation for NGOs funded from abroad to carry the "foreign agent" tag.
The move came after President Vladimir Putin accused the US State Department of encouraging protests against his 13-year rule.
A new row opened in US-Russian ties in late December when the United States passed legislation targeting Russian officials who have been implicated in rights abuses.
Russia responded in kind and also banned all US adoptions of Russian orphans.