SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The LDS Church is merging two of its missions in Russia, sending those missionaries home early or reassigning them to finish their service in the U.S.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Saturday that it would combine the southeast Vladivostok Mission and the southern Novosibirsk Mission, effective July 1.
Having six missions instead of seven in the country comes a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed a law restricting religious practices as an anti-terrorism measure.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah said in December that the relationship between the United States and Russia is "Cold War-esque" and makes it difficult for U.S. diplomats and members of the LDS Church there.
Stewart supported sanctions imposed by President Obama but said he didn't go far enough in retaliating against what Stewart said is harassment against U.S. diplomats.
"What Russia is doing is aggressive," Stewart said. "It's illegal and harmful."
Church officials in response kept their plans to send missionaries but said they would be known as "volunteers" and would refrain from proselytizing publicly to comply with the law.
Last summer, six volunteers from a Russian mission were "detained by local authorities for a brief period, seeking information about the status of their visas", according to LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins.
The volunteers were released a few hours later and three of the volunteers were reassigned to another Russian-speaking mission outside of the country "because of technicalities related to their visas."
The affected missionaries who were set to return in July will now head back this month. The others will be reassigned.
Contributing: Tracie Snowder
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