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Russia 2019 Crime & Safety Report: Moscow

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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. Do not travel to the north Caucasus, including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus, due to civil unrest and terrorism; and Crimea due to foreign occupation and abuses by occupying authorities.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow 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 a serious risk from crime in Moscow. The 2018 FIFA World Cup brought millions of foreign visitors to Moscow and ten other host cities. In addition to the large number of soccer fans, thousands of corporate sponsors spent weeks in the capital region with few reported security-related incidents. The mostly incident-free event was a significant security accomplishment, since Russian authorities were successful in their attempt to keep the tourist areas of Moscow safe from violent crime. However, visitors to Moscow should continue to 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 or from the threat of terrorism. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, shopping malls, and government facilities.

According to recently published crime statistics, the number of reported crimes in Moscow dropped by nearly 9% in 2018. These figures include a 21.8% drop in homicides and attempted homicides. Theft, robbery, fraud, and embezzlement were the most commonly reported crimes. A third of the crimes reported in 2018 involved an intoxicated person; intoxicated foreigners are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery around nightclubs and bars. Travel in groups and stay in well-populated areas.

Street-level thefts and robberies are a somewhat frequent event on the Moscow metro and in large crowds. The most vulnerable areas for street crime include underground walkways (perekhods), the metro, overnight trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions, and restaurants. Smash-and-grab burglaries from parked cars are common; criminals take anything of value left in plain sight, but do not specifically target the car.

In 2018, telephonic bomb threats against public venues continued to be a nuisance in Moscow, and resulted in the evacuation of thousands of people from dozens of locations throughout the city. The unknown callers mostly targeted government buildings, airports, hotels, shopping malls, train stations, and entertainment venues.

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.

Other Areas of Concern

The Russian Federation maintains an extensive military presence in Crimea. Russia is likely to take further military actions in Crimea as part of its occupation of this part of Ukraine. The international community, including the U.S. and Ukraine, does not recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea. There are continuing abuses against foreigners and the local population by the occupation authorities in Crimea, particularly against those seen as challenging Russian authority on the peninsula. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens traveling in Crimea; the U.S. government prohibits employees from traveling to Crimea.

Civil unrest and terrorist attacks continue throughout the North Caucasus region, including in Chechnya, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya. Local gangs have kidnapped U.S. citizens and other foreigners for ransom. There are credible reports of arrest, torture, and extrajudicial killing of gay men in Chechnya, allegedly conducted by Chechen regional authorities. Do not attempt to climb Mount Elbrus; travelers must pass close to volatile and insecure areas of the North Caucasus region to do so. The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens traveling in the North Caucasus region, including Mount Elbrus; the U.S. government prohibits employees from traveling to the region.

Visit our Consular Affairs website for additional information on Travel to High-Risk Areas.

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 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. Have your vehicle serviced and in optimum condition before you 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 with regard to 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 the driver’s license. Authorities may detain an intoxicated until the driver is sober.

Russian law requires that vehicles involved in an accident not move until police arrive. Moving one’s 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.

For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s Report Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

Public Transportation Conditions

Moscow has an extensive and efficient public transportation system. Remain aware of the threat of petty theft on crowded Metro trains and in stations. Terrorist acts have occurred in train stations and at airports.

Legitimate taxi companies generally provide reliable, safe, and economical services. Ride-sharing services (e.g. Uber, Yandex, and 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 frequented by tourists.

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 (ICAO) 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

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

There is considerable risk from terrorism in Moscow. The threat from domestic and international terrorist groups and lone actors continues to be a concern for the Russian government. ISIS and other terrorist groups aspire to attack high-profile targets in Russia. Most terrorist incidents in Russia occur in the North Caucasus republics, where Islamist militants regularly target security forces, law enforcement personnel, and government officials. The most recent high-profile terrorist attack took place in 2017 in St. Petersburg, where a suicide bomber killed 15 people using the city’s metro system.

Visitors to Moscow should continue to exercise caution, as no area of the city is immune from crime or the threat of terrorism. Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, shopping malls, and government facilities.

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

In response to Russia’s violations of Ukraine's sovereignty and other acts, the U.S. suspended most bilateral engagement with the Russian government on economic issues. The U.S. continues to investigate allegations of mistreatment or discrimination against U.S. investors in Russia, and urges Russia to improve its investment climate, adhere to the rule of law, and foster transparency. In response, Russia further diminished the ability of U.S. institutions to engage in Russia. Anti-U.S. and anti-Western rhetoric is widespread in both official media sources and on social media. Despite the rhetoric, no major incidents of violence targeting U.S citizens took place in 2018. Learn more on the U.S. Commercial Service in Russia website.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

There is considerable risk from civil unrest in Moscow. 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 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. Avoid public demonstrations and avoid any large crowds and public gatherings that lack enhanced security measures.

Review the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2017 for additional information on this issue.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Russian authorities have detained, fined, and in some cases 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. 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. Russia’s Supreme Court designated Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist” group in 2017, effectively banning its activities and literature, and detaining a number of church members.

Media, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and religious groups have reported a number of attacks on individuals based on their religious identity. There were physical assaults on Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims, as well as other attacks on individuals, possibly based on both their ethnicity and religion. NGOs reported fewer instances of violence based on religious identity in 2018 than in prior years. 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.

For more information, review OSAC’s Report Putting Your Faith in Travel: Security Implications.

Review the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 for additional information on this issue.

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 similar to that of comparable 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

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 Concerns

According to the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2019 report, Russia continued its efforts to enhance the regulatory environment for small and medium enterprises, carrying out four reforms in the past year. The reforms, to improve the business climate for domestic small and medium enterprises, applied to both Moscow and St. Petersburg, the two Russian cities benchmarked by the Doing Business report. The latest reforms helped advance Russia 31st place in the global ease of doing business ranking in 2018, representing an improvement from the 35th place in 2017 and 40th place in 2016. Russia was ranked 120th in 2011.

However, fundamental structural problems in governance of the economy continue to stifle foreign direct investment throughout the country. In particular, Russia’s judicial system remains heavily biased in favor of the state, often leaving investors with little recourse in the event of a legal dispute with the government. High levels of corruption among government officials compound this risk. Russia ranked 138 out of 180 (poor) in Transparency International’s 2018 Corruption Perception Index. Moreover, Russia’s import substitution program often gives local producers a sizeable advantage over foreign competitors that do not meet Russia’s localization requirements. Additionally, Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea have led to the imposition of sanctions on targeted Russian entities by the United States and European Union, increasing the cost of legal compliance for U.S. companies and placing restrictions on the types of business activities permitted in Russia.

U.S. investors in Russia must ensure they are in full compliance with U.S. sanctions stemming from Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea and all other applicable sanctions. These measures include restrictions on the duration of debt and equity financing for certain sanctioned entities, restrictions on the export to Russia of certain kinds of goods, and a complete ban on dealings with those entities or individuals identified by the U.S. Treasury Department as “specially designated nationals.” Further information on the U.S. sanctions program is available at the U.S. Treasury Department’s Active Sanctions Programs webpage.

Review the Department of State’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs Investment Climate Statements for 2018 for additional information on this issue.

For information on doing business in Russia, visit the U.S. Commercial Service’s website for links to the Country Commercial Guide and other market intelligence.

Privacy Concerns

There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in Russia. Telephone and electronic communications are subject to surveillance at any time and without advisory, which can compromise sensitive information. The Russian System for Operational-Investigative Activities (SORM) legally permits authorities to monitor and record all data that traverses Russia’s networks. A SORM Factsheet is available. Assume that authorities monitor all communications.

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 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 specifically targeting U.S. citizens at this time.

Police Response

Police presence in Moscow deliberately escalates during key holidays and at major events such as the World Cup. Russia enforces special restrictions on dual U.S.-Russian nationals. Due to the Russian government-imposed reduction on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia, the U.S. government’s capacity to provide services to U.S. citizens is less than it had been prior to September 2017.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Although not as common as in years past, foreigners in Russia potentially must deal with harassment, mistreatment, and extortion from law enforcement and other officials. Russian law does not require police to show probable cause in order to stop, question, or detain individuals. Random document checks and other official actions provide opportunities for “on-the-spot” fines. If stopped, the best practice for non-Russians is to obtain the officer’s name, badge number, and patrol car number, and note where the stop happened. This information assists local officials in responding to any harassment.

Detained U.S. citizens can contact American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy or nearest consulate for assistance. U.S. citizens with an emergency during regular office hours can call +7 (495) 728-5577; those with an after-hours emergency can call +7 (495) 728-5000.

Crime Victim Assistance

Report crimes immediately to the local police at 102 (landline), 020 or 112 (mobile phone). U.S. citizens should also call the American Citizen Services section of the Embassy or Consulate.

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

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 similar to those exercised by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Medical Emergencies

To summon an ambulance (Skoraya Pomosh), dial 103 (landline), 030, or 112 (mobile 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.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

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

Available Air Ambulance Services

The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of medical evacuation (medevac) services in Russia. In the event of an emergency, these services will work with nearby providers to facilitate evacuation.

Insurance Guidance

Travelers should purchase medical insurance that covers 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.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Consult U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the 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.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Country Council in Moscow is active, meeting several times a year. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Europe Team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

Bolshoy Deviatinskiy Pereulok No. 8, Moscow 121099

Hours of Operation: Monday-Friday 0830-1630, excluding Russian and U.S. Holidays

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Switchboard – +7-495-728-5000

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

Associated Posts

U.S. Consulate General Vladivostok

U.S. Consulate General Yekaterinburg

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Russia should register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to ensure they receive pertinent security updates and notices. The entered data is secure behind Department of State firewalls, accessed only by cleared personnel in Embassies, Consulates, and the Department of State, and releasable only under the provisions of the Privacy Act.

Additional Resources

Russia Country Information Sheet