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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Russia 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Vladivostok

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Russia at Level 2, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution due to terrorism, harassment, and the arbitrary enforcement of local laws.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Consulate General in Vladivostok does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

Review OSAC’s Russia-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Crime Threats

There is moderate risk from crime in Vladivostok. With a population of just over 600,000, the city experiences levels of crime comparable to other major Russian urban centers. The police are able to deter many serious crimes, but petty crimes still occur with some frequency. Pickpockets are active, although to a lesser degree than in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Pickpocketing on public transportation, at shopping areas, and tourist sites does occur. Thieves commonly target wallets, cell phones, computers, tablets, cameras, and high-value items.

While residential break-ins and thefts occur, these typically take place during daylight hours when the residents are away. Confrontational home invasions with residents present are not common.

While legal private handgun ownership is limited and well-regulated by police, unlicensed firearms are in circulation. The police also regulate Pneumatic/”Traumatic” weapons, described as non-lethal means of defense, which have been used in crimes; although officially declared “non-lethal,” individuals have died from injuries received from these weapons.

Organized crime groups in Vladivostok and their related violence did not target U.S. citizens in 2018.

Automobile theft does occur, with low figures for recovery or prosecution of criminals. A portion of Vladivostok’s economy involves car importation, vehicle customization, and the sale of car parts. Stolen vehicles are generally transported out of the city or broken down into parts. Strongly consider the use of an alarm system or anti-theft device. Thieves are particularly interested in visible currency, GPS navigation systems, smartphones, and other loose valuables. Never leave keys in the ignition or leave your car with the engine running. Remove all valuables from their vehicles, even if parked in a “guarded” parking lot; theft of these valuables from cars remains more common than theft of the actual cars.

Incidents of credit card, Internet, and ATM fraud are common. Be especially cautious when using ATMs: look for indicators of device tampering, card readers, and low-profile video cameras; and for individuals loitering in the immediate area. Use only reputable ATMs inside of major hotels, at large supermarkets, in card-reader secured vestibules inside brick-and-mortar banks. Avoid using of outdoor ATMs. Take care accessing financial information or purchasing items online. Most retailers and dining/entertainment establishments accept credit cards. Large hotels are generally safe for credit card use. For more information, review OSAC’s Report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

Other Areas of Concern

There are several closed cities and regions in Russia – especially near border areas. Travelers attempting to enter these areas without prior authorization may be subject to arrest, fines, and/or deportation. Visitors must list on their visa application all areas they plan to visit, and subsequently register with authorities upon arrival at each destination. The list of restricted areas is subject to frequent changes; check with your sponsor, hotel, or the nearest office of the Interior Ministry before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns. All visitors must have a sponsor.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions and driver safety norms differ significantly from those in the U.S., especially outside of major metropolitan areas. Road conditions in Vladivostok and throughout the region are poor. Asphalt quality varies widely. Roads outside of cities are often poorly illuminated. In addition to ice and snow concerns in winter, poor road construction results in numerous dangerously large potholes on major streets. To avoid even small potholes, drivers commonly brake suddenly or make violent and unexpected lane changes without signaling or checking other lanes. Collisions resulting from this behavior are common. In the Russian Far East, many vehicles are right-side drive (with the steering wheel and pedals on the right side of the car), even though they are driven on the right-hand side of the road. This affords drivers limited visibility on two-lane roads.

Movable roadside checkpoints are common. These checkpoints are ostensibly to detect drunken driving, narcotics, alien smuggling, and firearms violations; however, traffic police sometimes use them to extract cash bribes in the form of “fines.” The Russian Federation has also expanded the use of camera enforcement for traffic and parking violations.

While walking alongside or near roads, exercise great care, as vehicles sometimes fail to yield to pedestrians.

Russia practices a 0.16 mg BAC policy for alcohol consumption while driving. The maximum punishment is a two-year suspension of a driver’s license and fine of 30,000 Rubles. For a second violation (within a 12-month rolling period): three-year suspension, 300,000 Rubles fine, and imprisonment up to two years. Authorities may detain an intoxicated driver until sober. Refusal of a breath test is punishable by a two-year license suspension and a 30,000 Ruble fine.

Adhere to all local driving regulations. Avoid excessive speed and, when possible, do not drive at night outside of major cities. In rural areas, it is not uncommon to find livestock crossing roadways and people in dark clothing walking alongside. Pedestrians may attempt to cross streets suddenly, oblivious to oncoming traffic. Construction sites or stranded vehicles are often not marked. Sometimes cars have only one working headlight, and many cars lack taillights; bicycles seldom have lights or reflectors. Be prepared for sudden stops. Some routes have heavy truck and bus traffic, while others have poor or nonexistent shoulders; many are one-way or do not permit left turns. Even thoroughfares marked as major routes on maps may be nothing more than two-lane roadways. In some areas, roads are practically nonexistent. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

If an accident involves bodily injury, do not move the vehicles until authorities arrive. In circumstances that involve only minor property damage, no injury, and no claims from either party, it is possible to move the vehicles so as not to obstruct traffic, since both drivers may file insurance paperwork without having to summon the traffic police.

Public Transportation Conditions

Most major cities have an established public transportation system that may consist of bus, trolley, and/or streetcar lines. Many larger cities also have an underground metro system, which is not present in Vladivostok. Pickpockets are known to be active on public transportation and can slice through purses, backpacks, and clothing without alerting the owner.

The Consulate discourages the use of unmarked taxis (sometimes called “gypsy cabs”), as passengers are subject to a higher chance of criminal activity. Licensed taxi companies provide reliable, safe, and economical services. However, be alert to the potential for substantial overcharging, particularly in areas frequented by tourists. Always confirm the cost with the driver before the taxi departs. Do not enter taxis with more than one person (the driver) inside. The cheapest and safest option remains calling ahead and requesting a car from a legitimate dispatch taxi service or Internet application-based service, both of which are readily available in Vladivostok. For more information on ride-sharing, review OSAC’s Annual Briefing Report Safety and Security in the Share Economy.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government’s Civil Aviation Authority as compliant with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Russia’s air carrier operations. Several Russian carriers have participated in the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) program, an industry-sponsored safety audit program.

Security procedures at Vladivostok International Airport (VVO) involve pre-inspection/screening of passengers and luggage near the main entrance, accompanied by a secondary detailed inspection after passport control. There have been no recent airport incidents.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Vladivostok. There are no specific indications that U.S. institutions or citizens in Vladivostok have been targets of terrorist plans, but there is a general standing risk of U.S. citizens becoming victims of indiscriminate terrorist attacks.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

The social and political unrest in Ukraine, along with economic sanctions, have led to increased political tensions between the Russian Federation and the U.S. and other Western nations.

Demonstrations in front of U.S. Consulate General Vladivostok occurred sporadically throughout 2018, with various anti-Western themes. All protests were small (10-15 people), non-violent, monitored by police, and concluded peacefully.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Vladivostok. In general, the government sanction public rallies/demonstrations, and local law enforcement groups monitor them. Avoid any public demonstrations, properly authorized or otherwise, and avoid any large crowds and public gatherings that lack enhanced security measures.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Grouped townhouses and large apartment buildings are very common housing structures, but many are perched dangerously along steep hills.

Black ice is common during winter months; many roads become extremely dangerous, if not completely unsuitable for use.

Critical Infrastructure

The Russian Ministry of Emergency Services has proven themselves highly capable of responding to large-scale disasters.

Economic Concerns

Certain activities that would be considered normal business practices in the U.S. and other countries either violate the Russian legal code or are considered suspect by Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). There are particular risks involved in any commercial activity with the Russian military-industrial complex, including research institutes, design bureaus, production facilities or other high-technology, government-related institutions. Any misunderstanding or dispute in such transactions can attract the involvement of the security services and lead to investigation or prosecution for espionage. Rules governing the treatment of information remain poorly defined.

Privacy Concerns

Local security services carefully watch foreign visitors and may place them under surveillance. Authorities may monitor hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, internet use, and fax machines onsite or remotely; and may search personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, without consent or knowledge. Business travelers should be particularly mindful that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other business sensitive information may be taken and shared with competitors, counterparts, and/or Russian regulatory and legal entities.

Maintain no expectation of privacy. Telephone and electronic communications are subject to surveillance, which can compromise sensitive information. The Russian System for Operational-Investigative Activities (SORM) permits authorities to monitor and record all data that traverses Russia’s networks. A SORM Factsheet is available on OSAC.gov. Assume the government monitors all communications. Weigh your desire to stay connected with the risks, and take precautions to keep personal information protected.

When using local services for banking, security, and medical treatment, ensure that the providers are reputable. Be cautious about the amount of information that made available to these institutions. It is not uncommon for employees of these organizations to pass sensitive personal medical, financial, and banking information to criminal elements.

Personal Identity Concerns

Discrimination based on sexual orientation is widespread in Russia; acts of violence and harassment targeting the LGBTI community occur frequently. Russian law bans providing "the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" to minors. The law is vague as to what Russia considers propaganda, but foreign citizens can face fines, up to 15 days in jail, and deportation if their actions violate the law. Violence against the LGBTI community has increased sharply since the passage of the law banning propaganda, including entrapment and torture of young gay men by neo-Nazi gangs, as well as by law enforcement officials in the region of Chechnya, and the murder of multiple individuals due to their sexual orientation.

Drug-related Crimes

Russia is both a transit and consumer country for Afghan opiates trafficked from Afghanistan through Central Asia to Russia. According to the latest information (2017) published by the Prosecutor General’s Office of Russia, crime committed while under the influence of alcohol seems to be declining.

Kidnapping Threat

In the Russian Far East, kidnappings occur with low frequency.

Police Response

The quality of assistance from local law enforcement varies. Russian police and security services have been very impressive during large-scale and international events. Every year, the Far Eastern Federal University hosts the international Eastern Economic Forum. During that time, several foreign leaders from the Indo-Pacific region, as well as President Putin, come to the Council Summit, hosted in Vladivostok. Police units dedicated to protecting and responding to the needs of these high-level delegations are professional and competent.

While most local police precincts have a translator assigned to them, the average police officer on the street has minimal ability to converse in English.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Fewer than five times in 2018, Consulate Vladivostok received information that the Ministry of Internal Affairs detained U.S. citizens for entering the Russian Federation on the wrong type of visa or failing to register properly. Those detained faced legal repercussions including fines, deportation, or re-entry bans based on fluctuating interpretations of immigration laws. Some cases can take hours to resolve, while others drag on for months.

Russian authorities have detained, fined, and in some cases deported travelers for engaging in religious activities they deem inconsistent with Russian law. Russian officials have stated that Russia recognizes four “historic” religions: Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. The Russian government places restrictions on so-called “missionary activity,” which it defines broadly. Travelers engaging in certain types of religious work may risk harassment, detention, fines, or deportation for administrative violations if they do not have proper authorization from a registered religious group. The Russian government has detained U.S. citizens for religious activities that they contend are not permitted under a tourist visa. Even speaking at a religious service, traditional or non-traditional, has resulted in immigration violations. For more information, review OSAC’s Report Putting Your Faith in Travel: Security Implications.

It is not uncommon for law enforcement and other officials to harass, mistreat, or extort foreigners. Police do not need to show probable cause to stop, question, or detain individuals. If stopped, obtain the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number, and note where the stop happened; this information assists local officials to identify the perpetrators. The Consulate recommends against the payment of bribes in any circumstance. If found in this situation, immediately inform the police that you wish to contact the Consulate. Report all incidents of police detention or harassment to the U.S. Consulate’s American Citizen Services office at telephone +7 423 230 0070 Monday to Friday during normal working hours (0900-1700) or at +7 4232 710 067 after-hours and on weekends.

Crime Victim Assistance

U.S. citizen victims of crime should contact the police by dialing 02 (or 102 from cellular phone). Police attempt to provide English-speakers when possible, but do not assume that an English speaker will appear. If you do not speak Russian, try to locate a Russian-speaking friend or colleague who can assist in the interaction with police.

U.S. citizens should report all crimes immediately to the police and to the Consulate’s American Citizen Services section.

Emergency numbers for Vladivostok:

Police (Emergency): 02 (102 from cell phone)

Police (Non-Emergency): Varies by location (002 for traffic police)

Fire: 01 (101 from cell phone)

Ambulance: 03 (103 from cell phone)

For local first responders, refer to the Consulate’s Emergency Assistance page.

Police/Security Agencies

The Ministry of Internal Security (MVD) is the central law enforcement body. State Inspection for Traffic Security (GIBDD) is the MVD entity responsible for the regulation of traffic and investigating traffic accidents.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) is Russia’s main domestic security agency. The FSB combines functions and powers similar to those exercised by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

There is a private security business sector in the Russian Far East. As with any business venture, take care to choose a reputable company when selecting a security service. Vet all locally hired employees thoroughly.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities are available in the Russian Far East, although the quality is generally below Western standards. Medical personnel in hospitals are generally well-trained, but equipment and facilities limit their capabilities. Only a limited number of doctors speak English. It is worth noting that newer facilities built in recent years indicate improvement in this area.

Municipal and private ambulance services remain substandard. Ambulance response time in Vladivostok is typically very poor; transport to the nearest hospital can take considerable time due to traffic conditions. Most ambulances are poorly equipped and staffed by individuals without English skills and who lack Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training akin to that found in the West. Only a select few special ambulances possess life support and stabilization equipment with staff proficient in its use. Ambulances are generally only a means of transportation to a hospital.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, refer to the Consulate’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

International SOS Medical Clinic; (4242) 46-29-11; (4242) 47-49-11 (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk)

International SOS Russian 24/7 Hotline; +7 (495) 937 5760 (Moscow)

Insurance Guidance

Strongly consider purchasing medical evacuation insurance prior to travel.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Russia.

OSAC Country Council Information

There is no active Country Council in Vladivostok. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has an active OSAC Country Council that meets periodically to discuss issues of mutual concern. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Consulate Location and Contact Information

Consulate Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Consulate Vladivostok Address

32 Ulitsa Pushkinskaya, Vladivostok 690001

American Citizen Services Public Hours: Monday-Thursday 1400-1630, Friday 1000-1200. The U.S. Consulate is closed on all Russian and U.S. holidays.

Consulate Contact Numbers

Consulate Operator: + 7 423 230 0070 (normal business hours) or +7 4232 710 067 (after-hours and weekends)

Website: https://ru.usembassy.gov/embassy-consulates/vladivostok

U.S. Consular Agency Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Lada Hotel Suite 210, 154 Komsomolskaya Street, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk

Telephone: (4242) 42 49 17

Cell Phone: +7 914 704 07 62

Email: Sakh.agency@confidesk.com

The Consular Agency is open Mondays and Thursdays from 0900-1300

Nearby Posts: Embassy Moscow, Consulate Yekaterinburg

Additional Resources

Russian Federation Country Information Sheet

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