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Russia 2020 Crime & Safety Report: Moscow

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Russia. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Russia country 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.

Travel Advisory

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. Do not travel to the North Caucasus, including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus, due to terrorism, kidnapping, and risk of civil unrest; or to Crimea due to Russia’s occupation of the Ukrainian territory and abuses by its occupying authorities. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Moscow as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Visitors to Moscow should exercise the same amount of caution as they would visiting other large cities in the region, as no area of the city is immune from crime. Crimes against tourists do occur at popular tourist sites and on public transportation. Be cautious and aware of your surroundings. Exercise caution in the vicinity of large crowds. Do not leave bags unattended. U.S. nationals have been victims of serious crimes when visiting Russia. Russian authorities are not always willing to investigate crimes impartially and thoroughly. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

According to recently published crime statistics, the number of reported crimes in Moscow dropped by 1%in 2019. However, the number of homicides, attempted homicides, and serious crimes saw an increase of over 15% in comparison to the previous year. Minor offenses, the most widely reported type of crimes, dropped slightly in 2019.

In 2019, telephonic bomb threats against public venues continued to be a nuisance in Moscow, which resulted in the evacuation of over a million people from multiple locations throughout the city. The callers mostly targeted government buildings, airports, hotels, shopping malls, train stations, schools, and entertainment venues, with little regard for the disruptions they caused for businesses and residents. Although the telephonic bomb threats appear to be more of a nuisance than a threat, local authorities must treat each event as a real threat and are required to inspect, and often, evacuate the targeted venue.

Never leave your drink unattended in a bar or club. Alcohol was a significant factor in most criminal activity reported by foreign visitors. Review OSAC’s report, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad.

Report credit card or ATM card theft to the credit card company or issuing bank immediately. Avoid carrying large sums of cashReview OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Cybersecurity Issues

Cybercrime is a significant problem across Russia. Russian hackers and traditional organized crime structures continue to work together, raising threats to the financial sector. The risk of infection, compromise, and theft via malware, spam e-mail, sophisticated spear phishing, and social engineering attacks is significant. Remain vigilant against cyber threats, and actively use cyber security measures to mitigate risks. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, and Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Road conditions and driver safety norms differ significantly from those in the United States, especially outside of major metropolitan areas. Winter weather, which tends to last for six months or longer every year, can change rapidly and cause dangerous driving conditions. Proper vehicle maintenance, winter tires, and defensive driving skills are essential. Keep vehicles serviced and in optimum condition before travel.

Authorities strictly enforce local driving regulations; violators are subject to severe legal penalties. Avoid excessive speed and, when possible, do not drive at night outside of major cities. Roadside checkpoints are commonplace.

Russia enforces a zero-tolerance policy regarding operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol; there are strict penalties for violations that exceed the allowable blood-alcohol content (BAC) of 0.03. Police conduct random traffic stops and can compel drivers to submit to a sobriety test. A driver’s refusal to submit to the test equates to an admission of having consumed alcohol. The maximum punishment for drinking and driving is a two-year suspension of a driver’s license. Authorities may detain an intoxicated driver until they are sober.

Drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and generally observe this requirement. It is dangerous to cross where there is not a crosswalk present.

Russian law requires that vehicles involved in an accident not move until police arrive. Moving a vehicle will result in that driver assuming full responsibility for damages. The only exception is a situation in which vehicles block traffic; in this case, the parties involved must take photographs from different angles and move the vehicles to a nearby location that does not block traffic.

Staged vehicle accidents are a problem in Russia. Perpetrators usually attempt to extort money through intimidation. There have been cases in which accomplices have arrived at the scene posing as officials. A true State Inspection for Traffic Safety (GIBDD) inspector wears a black uniform (never camouflage) and a silver-red badge. Traffic police assigned to foot duty carry black and white batons. Legitimate police should always provide their name and rank. A real traffic inspector should never show up alone or without a police car.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Moscow and St. Petersburg have extensive and efficient public transportation systems. There is the threat of petty theft on crowded Metro trains and in stations. Terrorist acts have also occurred in train stations and at airports.

Legitimate taxi companies generally provide reliable, safe, and economical services. Ride-sharing services (e.g. Uber, Yandex, Gett) are in wide use in Moscow, and are as safe as elsewhere in the world. When hailing a taxi curbside, be alert to the potential for substantial overcharging, particularly in areas tourists frequent.

Avoid using unregulated taxis; passengers have been victims of robbery, kidnapping, extortion, and theft. Robberies may also occur in taxis shared with strangers. Always use authorized services when arriving at an airport.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed that the Russian government’s Civil Aviation Authority complies with the International Civil Aviation Organization aviation safety standards for oversight of Russia’s air carrier operations. The main transit airports in Russia are in Moscow: Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO), Domodedovo International Airport (DME), and Vnukovo International Airport (VKO).

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Moscow as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There is the potential for terrorism in Moscow. Visitors should continue to exercise caution, as no area of the city is immune from the threat of terrorism. Terrorist groups, transnational and local terrorist organizations, and lone actors inspired by extremist ideology and messaging continue plotting possible attacks in Russia. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, and other public areas.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Moscow as being a HIGH-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

There is the potential for civil unrest in Moscow in the form of unsanctioned demonstrations. Russian law provides for freedom of assembly, but local authorities are placing increased restrictions on this right. The law requires that organizers of public meetings, demonstrations, or marches by more than one person formally notify the government of their intent to assemble. Failure to obtain official permission to hold a protest frequently results in the dispersal of such protests. While numerous public demonstrations do take place, local officials selectively deny permission to assemble or offer alternate venues that are inconveniently or remotely located. Visitors should avoid public demonstrations. Authorities have arrested U.S. nationals who have participated in or been in the vicinity of demonstrations. Review the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018 for additional information on this issue. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

A risk of civil and political unrest continues throughout the North Caucasus region including Chechnya, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya. Local criminal gangs have kidnapped foreigners, including U.S. nationals, for ransom. In the Republic of Chechnya, local authorities may harbor hostility towards U.S. travelers. The Department of State advises U.S. nationals against traveling there, and to depart immediately if they are there, and notes that the U.S. government has no ability to assist U.S. nationals in this region. The Department also advise against adventure tourism to Mt. Elbrus, a tourist destination, as it borders this unstable and dangerous region.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Harassment of U.S.-based religious and student groups can take place in Russia. Russian authorities arbitrarily enforce the law against U.S. religious workers, opening questionable criminal investigations against those engaged in religious activity.

Russian authorities have detained, fined, and/or deported travelers for engaging in religious activities. Russian officials have stated that Russia recognizes four “traditional” religions: Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. The Russian government places restrictions on so-called “missionary activity” and defines it 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. nationals 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.

Since the 2017 Supreme Court ruling that the religion is “extremist,” Jehovah’s Witnesses have reported beatings and arson attacks on their homes. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, adherents have increasingly faced harassment at their workplaces and, in some cases, dismissal or forced resignation when their coworkers became aware of their religious beliefs. Media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious groups have reported several attacks on individuals based on their religious identity. There were physical assaults on Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, and others based on their ethnicity and religion. In separate instances, arsonists attacked a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ home and place of worship. Acts of vandalism motivated by religious hatred continue, including against Jewish, Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, and Buddhist religious sites.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers and the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor International Religious Freedom Report for 2018.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Russia suffers from extensive land and groundwater pollution due to the lax environmental protections during the Soviet era. A recent study indicated that Moscow’s air quality is comparable to other large, industrial cities; however, there have been episodes of spikes in foul-smelling emissions (particularly hydrogen sulfide) likely due to refurbishing work at Moscow-area refineries. There have been no reports of long-term illnesses from these releases.

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

Russia continues to experience industrial accidents directly associated with inadequate enforcement of safety and health standards in the workplace. Aging infrastructure and rampant corruption in regulatory bodies have contributed to several well-publicized disasters. Authorities normally enforce fines and facility closures only after an accident has occurred.

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft

The United States imposes sanctions on Russian persons (i.e. individuals, entities, vessels) in response to malign Russian conduct, including its illegal annexation of Crimea, invasion of eastern Ukraine, election interference, malicious cyber-enabled activities, human rights abuses, use of a chemical weapon, weapons proliferation, illicit trade with North Korea, and support to Syria. While U.S. organizations and individuals can lawfully engage in a broad range of business activities involving Russia that are not subject to sanction, penalties for violating U.S. sanctions can be severe. Therefore, U.S. organizations should familiarize themselves with potentially applicable sanctions and to conduct thorough due diligence to ascertain whether a particular type of business activity or particular customers, clients, suppliers or partners may be subject to sanctions. More information on the U.S. sanctions program is available at the U.S. Treasury website. U.S. investors can also use the “Consolidated Screening List” search tool on the U.S. International Trade Administration’s website to check sanctions and control lists from the Departments of Treasury, State, and Commerce as a part of comprehensive due diligence in the Russian market.

The Russian Federation continued to implement regulatory reforms in 2018, allowing Russia to climb four notches to 31st place out of 190 economies in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 Report. However, fundamental structural problems in its governance of the economy, in addition to Western sanctions, continue to stifle foreign direct investment throughout Russia. Russia’s judicial system remains heavily biased in favor of the state, leaving investors with little recourse in legal disputes with the government. Despite ongoing anticorruption efforts, high levels of corruption among government officials compound this risk. In February 2019, authorities jailed a prominent U.S. investor over a commercial dispute. Moreover, Russia’s import substitution program gives local producers advantages over foreign competitors that do not meet localization requirements. Russia’s malign activities have also resulted in European Union and U.S. sanctions, restricting business activities and increasing costs.

Further information is available in the Department of State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Investment Climate Statements for 2019 and the U.S. Commercial Service’s Country Commercial Guide.

Privacy Concerns

When traveling in Russia, maintain no expectation of privacy. Assume the Russian government monitors all communications. Telephone and electronic communications are subject to surveillance, which can potentially compromise sensitive information. The Russian System for Operational-Investigative Activities (SORM) permits authorities to monitor and record all data lawfully that traverses Russia’s networks. Review OSAC’s Russian SORM Factsheet.

When patronizing local services for banking, security, and medical treatment, ensure that the providers are reputable. Be cautious in the amount of information that you make available to these institutions. It is not uncommon for employees of some 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 regularly. 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 authorities deem that 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. In Chechnya, law enforcement officials have also been involved in persecution of the LGBTI+ community, and there have been multiple murders stemming from the individual’s sexual orientation. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Getting around in Russia is often difficult for persons with mobility issues. In general, public transportation is not accommodating to people with disabilities. Mobility is usually easier in major cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg. The Moscow Metro, though extremely safe and efficient in other areas, is generally not accessible to persons with disabilities. Sidewalks are narrow and uneven. Crossing streets in large cities can be difficult, since it usually requires the use of a pedestrian underpass, which includes stairs, steep ramps, and no elevators. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crime

Russia is both a transit and destination country for narcotics trafficking. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Russia are severe. Convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnappings occur infrequently and generally involve organized crime. Motives range from ransom to political issues. There is no information to suggest kidnappers are specifically targeting U.S. nationals. As ISIS continues to expand its global presence, remain cognizant of the threats and vulnerabilities associated with kidnappings and abductions. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Avoid travel to Crimea. U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to Crimea and are unable to provide emergency services to U.S. nationals there. You may only legally enter Crimea from mainland Ukraine. Entrance into Crimea by any other entry point other than from mainland Ukraine, such as air, sea, or the Kerch Strait Bridge is illegal. Ukrainian authorities will deny you entry into mainland Ukraine and ban you from entering Ukraine for five years. Time spent in Crimea will count against the 90-day visa-free period for Ukraine. Executive Order 13685 prohibits virtually all direct and indirect transactions (including financial, trade, and other commercial transactions) by U.S. persons to or from Crimea unless authorized by OFAC or exempted by statute.

Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

You must have advance approval to bring in satellite telephones. Global Positioning System (GPS) and other radio electronic devices, and their use, are subject to special rules and regulations in Russia. Contact the Russian Customs Service for required permissions. Review OSAC’s report, Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Rigorous searches of baggage and strict enforcement of customs regulations against the exportation of items of “cultural value” can occur. Authorities have arrested U.S. visitors for attempting to leave with antique items they believed they had purchased legally from licensed vendors. Any article that could appear old or as having cultural value, including artwork, icons, samovars, rugs, military medals, and antiques, must have a certificate indicating that it has no historical or cultural value. Authorities may not grant certificates for certain articles, either due to their cultural value or antiquity. Obtain and retain receipts for all high-value items (including caviar) purchased in Russia. Obtain export certificates from the Culture Ministry. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency lines in Russia are 102 from a landline or 020 or 112 from a mobile phone. For local first responders, refer to the embassy’s Emergency Assistance page.

The quality of assistance from local law enforcement varies. The Consulate has received reports from U.S. nationals that some police officers were polite and professional, while others were unprofessional or unwilling to deal with incidents of crime. In some cases, local law-enforcement officers failed to act even when they witnessed crimes in progress. The Internal Affairs Ministry (MVD) has enacted reforms to professionalize the law-enforcement service.

There have been public campaigns initiated to punish endemic bribery and corruption among the police services. However, random document checks and other official actions still provide opportunity for “on-the-spot” payment of fines. Foreigners are commonly victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion by law-enforcement and other officials. If stopped, politely obtain the officer’s name, badge number, patrol car number, and note where the stop happened, as this information assists local officials in identifying the perpetrators. Authorities are concerned about these incidents, and have cooperated in investigations. The Embassy recommends against the payment of bribes in any circumstance. If you find yourself in a situation where an officer solicits a bribe, immediately inform the police that you wish to contact your Embassy.

Report all crimes immediately to the police and to the American Citizen Services section of the Embassy. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Police/Security Agencies

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) is the agency primarily responsible for ensuring public order and conducting routine criminal investigations. The uniform worn by the police is dark blue, with the word Полиция (police) across the back and a police patch on the shoulder.

State Inspection for Traffic Security (GIBDD) is the MVD entity responsible for the regulation of traffic and investigating traffic accidents. Their uniforms are black with red trim.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) is Russia’s main domestic security agency. The FSB combines functions and powers like those exercised by the U.S. FBI, CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Medical Emergencies

The emergency number for an ambulance (“Skoraya Pomosh”) is 03 from a landline or 103 from a cell phone. Medical care can be expensive and may not be comprehensive. Some private facilities offer high-quality services, but many restrict services to normal business hours. The Russian national medical system provides emergency care that ranges in quality from poor to mediocre by Western standards. Pharmacies are widespread and frequently offer 24-hour service, although the English-language ability of staff may be limited. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website, Consulate General Yekaterinburg’s Medical Assistance page, or Consulate General Vladivostok’s Medical Assistance page.

Travelers should purchase medical insurance that covers medical evacuation (medevac) via air ambulance and that will reimburse for medical treatment provided in Russia. The U.S. Medicare program does not provide coverage for hospital or medical costs in Russia. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

Carry a copy of valid U.S. prescriptions, including a notarized translation into Russian of each prescription, when entering Russia with prescription medications. Prescription medication should be in its original packaging. Certain classes of over-the-counter cold medicines, such as those containing pseudoephedrine, are illegal in Russia. Do not bring cold medication with you to Russia. Review OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

From time to time, reports of measles outbreaks occur.

Visitors should consult U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for information on coping with air pollution. The CDC recommends all travelers have current routine vaccinations as well as hepatitis A; some travelers should receive inoculations against hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, and/or rabies. The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Russia.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Moscow is active, meeting several times a year. Contact OSAC’s Europe team for more information or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Bolshoy Deviatinskiy Pereulok No. 8, Moscow 121099

Regular business hours: 0830 – 1630, Monday – Friday, excluding Russian and U.S. Holidays

Switchboard: +7-495-728-5000

Website: https://ru.usembassy.gov/

Other U.S. Diplomatic Posts In Russia

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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