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Country Reports

Russia Country Report

Overview

INTRODUCTION

Traveling to Russia (population approximately 142 million) can generally be expected to take place under good conditions. However, as is the case for many other Eastern European countries, there some risks that should be taken into account while traveling to the country.

TERRORISM

The terrorist threat has remained consistently high for the past decade throughout the country (including in the capital Moscow). Like most countries in Europe, Russia faces the risk of its citizens traveling to Iraq and Syria to fight for the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (IS). The number of Russians fighting for IS has been estimated to be between 5000 and 7000, and there are fears that these citizens could return and carry out attacks on Russian soil. In September 2015, Russia launched military operations in Syria. This decision prompted IS, as well as its associated groups, to call on their militants to carry out attacks in Russia. In response to this threat, Russian authorities increased security measures at public places, particularly in the vicinity of major tourist sites.

In October 2015, a Russian charter plane flying from Sharm-al-Sheikh in Egypt exploded in mid-air in what was later confirmed to be a terrorist attack. The attack left 224 people dead, including 219 Russian citizens.

An explosion in the Saint Petersburg's metro in April 2017 killed at least 16 people and wounded 54 others. A second bomb was found and diffused. The suspected perpetrator was a Kyrgyz national, who reportedly traveled to Syria in 2014 to fight with IS. IS later claimed responsibility for the attack. An explosion in a supermarket in Saint Petersburg injured ten in December 2017; the incident was also ruled an act of terrorism.

In the North Caucasus republics (Ingushetia, Dagestan, Chechnya, and North Ossetia-Alania), terrorist attacks targeting security forces regularly occur. According to the Russian authorities, the number of attacks perpetrated in these regions has fallen significantly in recent years; however, the security situation remains precarious.

SECURITY

Caucasus

The political and security situation remains unstable in the Caucasus. The Republic of Dagestan has experienced a large number of terrorist attacks as well as clashes between security forces and Islamic rebels. In February 2018, IS claimed responsibility for a shooting at a church in Dagestan, which left at least five people dead and five wounded. Although the brunt of the violence has been born by the Republic of Dagestan, other small republics have also been targeted by attacks (Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Karachay-Cherkessia). Some Western countries advise against nonessential travel to the Caucasus region.

Crimea and regions bordering Ukraine

Several Western countries also advise against travel to the Crimean region, which has been under Russian administration since March 2014. The security situation in Crimea has worsened since the start of the 2014 conflict in Ukraine. Locals who have challenged Russia's authority in Crimea have faced harassment and arrest. UN officials reported in September 2017 that the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated significantly since March 2014, including reported cases of arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, and forced disappearances. Power outages occur frequently and some card payment systems are no longer available in the region.

Additionally, due to continuing hostilities in eastern Ukraine, some Western governments advise against all nonessential travel to the regions of Russia near the border with the Ukrainian provinces of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Luhansk.

POLITICS

Russian relations with the West significantly deteriorated after the country annexed Crimea from Ukraine - a move not recognized by the international community - in 2014. Additionally, Russia has been accused of supporting rebels in the uprising in eastern Ukraine, a conflict which has resulted in over 10,000 deaths. The EU has since imposed sanctions on the country, including on the energy, financial, and military sectors. Relations between Russia and the US also continue to deteriorate. In June 2017, the Russian government ordered the US to cut hundreds of diplomatic staff from its embassy and consulates. This move was regarded by many as retaliation for the US Congress passing new economic sanctions against Russia.               

The next presidential election is set to take place in March 2018. Opposition to the administration of President Putin has become more vocal in recent months (see SOCIAL UNREST).  In December 2017, Russia's Central Electoral Commission banned Aleksai Navalny, an opposition figure known for his anti-corruption campaign, from running for president in 2018 due to a suspended criminal sentence for embezzlement. Navalny continues to hold rallies nationwide, calling for a boycott of the election. Increasing tension and possible violence between anti- and pro-government demonstrators is likely ahead of and after the election.

The next legislative elections are schedule to be held in 2021.

SOCIAL UNREST

Tensions between supporters of Vladimir Putin's government and the political opposition are currently very high in Russia. Large-scale rallies - both pro- and anti-government - have occurred in recent years. In March and June 2017, anti-corruption protests led by Navalny took place across the country. In both instances, at least 10,000 people gathered in Moscow alone, and several hundred were detained by police. Nationwide anti-government protests also occurred in January 2018, resulting in several hundred arrests. Visitors should also be aware that security forces often do not hesitate to use force to disperse protesters. It is advisable to avoid all street protests.

CRIME

Criminals often target tourists, particularly in areas such as bars or night clubs, and rates of pickpocketing and purse-snatching are high. Maintain a low profile in public areas and at tourist sites. Carry photocopies of your passport and identity cards on you at all times (leave the originals in a safe place) and, in the event of an identity check, make sure the security agent has a badge with a number.

It should also be noted that xenophobic, racist, and homophobic acts and rallies have occurred more frequently in recent years, particularly in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

There remains a significant level of corruption in Russia; according to Transparency International, it is not uncommon for foreigners to be harassed or extorted by local police. If stopped and asked for a bribe, obtain the officer's name and badge number, and report the incident to the authorities and local embassy or consulate officials.

Cases of fraud and money scams are frequent. Only exchange money at credit card and automated banking machine (ABMS) run by major banks. Pay careful attention when your cards are being used by others, avoid card readers with irregular or unusual features, and only use ABMS in well-lit areas.

There is also a significant danger of cybercrime. This includes the use of phishing emails and malware. Only connect devices to Wi-Fi networks run by reputable businesses. Furthermore, Russian law permits authorities to monitor all communications across Russian networks. It is therefore prudent to assume that all communications are liable to be monitored.

TRANSPORTATION

Road Safety

Road safety standards in Russia are often below the level of other European countries. Unlicensed taxis should be avoided. The death rate on roads in Russia is significantly higher than in other European countries: around ten times higher than that in Poland and 60 times higher than the UK.

Driving outside of main cities can be difficult due to poorly maintained roads. Conditions during the winter are significantly worse due to ice and snow. Furthermore, travelers driving during winter should ensure that vehicles are in optimum condition before departing and travel with basic spare parts.

Police road checks occur frequently, even in the absence of a suspected offense. Some criminals set up fake checkpoints to rob drivers. An official traffic inspector can be identified by their black uniforms, and silver-red badges, with clearly-displayed name and badge number. Furthermore, they should always provide their name and rank. In event of a road check, individuals should be prepared to provide proper identification, answer basic questions about their travel, and follow any instructions issued by local authorities.

Rail Network

The Russian rail network is relatively well developed. Trains generally arrive on time but are often slow. Theft on trains, particularly overnight trains, is frequent.

Taxis

Individuals are advised against using unmarked, unlicensed taxis. Passengers in unregulated vehicles have been victims of robberies, kidnappings, and extortion. When possible, ask your hotel to call a taxi for you. Many major cities also provide a regulated service through the Yandex Taxi smart phone application.

NATURAL RISKS

The Kuril Islands and the Kamchatka Peninsula experience significant seismic and volcanic activity. Siberia, as well as a variety of western regions, also experience occasional flooding (mainly in spring). Large-scale forest fires are known to occur in summer months, such as the 2010 Moscow region fires, fueled by temperatures in excess of 35°C (95°F), and dangerously high levels of pollution. Air quality near affected areas may deteriorate due to heavy smoke. In case of forest fires, follow instructions issued by local authorities and monitor local media for up-to-date information. Moscow and central Russia are also known to experience violent thunderstorms in summer months. In May 2017, thunderstorms killed at least seven people and injured 69 others in Moscow.

Winters in most of Russia can be particularly harsh. During blizzards, temperatures in Moscow can drop to as low as -31˚C (-24˚F). Power outages and transportation disruptions should be expected in snowy conditions.

HEALTH

Standards in healthcare facilities are generally lower than those in EU countries. A comprehensive health insurance plan providing coverage abroad (including repatriation if necessary) should be acquired prior to leaving for Russia. Shortages of medicines and inadequate facilities are not rare outside of major urban areas.

Tap water generally is considered safe for brushing teeth, but is not always guaranteed to be safe to drink. Individuals should only drink bottled water as a precaution, even in cities.

LEGAL

Photographing military infrastructure, bridges, ports, train stations, and airports is prohibited in Russia.

The receipts for items of value purchased in Russia should be retained as they may be requested when leaving the country.

In case of questioning by authorities, no document written in Russian should be signed without the prior verification by a translator.

Border control

The Russian Federation's land borders with Azerbaijan and Georgia are closed to foreigners.

Foreign citizens attempting to travel to Crimea are required to request a Russian visa. Land entry to Crimea is limited to the road entry points in Kalanchak, Chapkynka, and Chongar and the rail entry points in Kherson, Melitopol, Vadym, and Novoolesiivka. Furthermore, those present in Crimea are not authorized to enter Ukraine via land entry points. Air travel to Crimea from Ukraine and most Western countries remains suspended as of early 2018.

Climate

Russia has a continental climate. In the west of the country, winters are long and very cold while summers are mild (17°C), stormy, and short (June to August). In the Moscow region, temperatures can fluctuate considerably from one day to another or even within a single day. In the east, the winter lasts from October until May and summers are short and often cool. In April, the country is often muddy due to melting snows.

Useful Numbers

Country Code: +7 Police: 02 Fire Dept.: 01 Ambulance: 03

Electricity

Voltage: 220 V ~ 50 Hz

Outlets:

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