The information included in the following report is derived from a variety of sources including the U.S. Embassy Moscow’s Regional Security Office (RSO), American Citizen Services section (ACS), Russian news services, and various Moscow regional and federal Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) contacts. Except where a city or region is specifically indicated, the below information applies to the Russian Federation as a whole.
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Embassy receives numerous criminal incident reports from private and official Americans on a routine basis. These incidents include, but are not limited to racial violence, theft, vandalism, robbery, physical assaults, and murder.
During the past year, the number of reported incidents of criminal acts against American citizens living and traveling in Russia remained high. Of particular concern was a rise in the number of assaults on Western and other diplomats, as well as ethnic minorities. Although many of the incidents reported by American citizens involve some type of theft or extortion of a small bribe, the embassy has received reports of a number of serious incidents of physical assaults perpetrated against Americans; these include: robbery at gunpoint, stabbing, and kidnapping in order to force the victim to remove money from an automatic-teller-machine (ATM).
There has been a steady increase in racially-motivated incidents and ethnically-motivated violence throughout Russia. Despite recent arrests, the membership and level of activity of local racist groups continue to grow. Attacks on ethnic minorities by young Russian ultra-nationalists who profess a sentiment of "Russia is for Russians" have risen for the third straight year. The 2007 posting of a video on the internet depicting the decapitation and shooting of two ethnic minorities in front of a large flag bearing a swastika was followed in December 2008 with the decapitation of a Central Asian male. An ultra-nationalist group claimed responsibility for the second murder and emailed photos to human rights groups. Some of these racist/nationalist groups have formed alliances with more moderate political opposition groups of the Kremlin and frequently hold marches and rallies throughout Russia.
American diplomatic personnel, particularly ethnic minorities who live outside of the embassy compound, have reported less violence but nearly constant harassment and discrimination.
Anti-American sentiment continues to be a problem in Russia as well. The U.S. Embassy has received numerous reports of assaults on Americans. Other targets include foreigners studying in Russian universities or religious missionaries working in the regions. Many of these acts are perpetrated by groups of three or more youths who are often intoxicated. These crimes appear to be spontaneous in contrast to some of the premeditated assaults and murders by ultra-nationalists.
Pick-pocketing is one of the most frequent offenses reported to the U.S. Embassy. Most of the reported incidents occur in high pedestrian traffic areas such as metro or train stations, markets, underground crosswalks, and popular tourist areas by an individual. The thief will surreptitiously remove a wallet or pocketbook without the victim noticing. Theft by a group of suspects also occurs. In the past, the perpetrators were young children who surrounded the victim and picked their pockets while being distracted. More recently, groups have been young adult males who swarm a victim, pin them against the wall of a Metro train, and forcibly remove valuables from the victim.
There have been a number of incidents reported of vehicles being burglarized. In most cases, thieves stole items that were visible from outside the car.
Robbery continues to be a frequently reported crime and can sometimes be violent. Assailants have been known to pose as taxi drivers or police officers. After a victim is taken inside a car, the victim is threatened with death until a sufficient amount of money is paid. A less violent tactic is to merely lock the victim in the back of the cab until an exorbitant fee is paid to the driver.
Factors increasing the likelihood of being robbed include: traveling alone, being out late at night, using unmarked taxis, and being under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants. Pedestrians should use extra caution at locations like Metro stations and in the underground "perehod" crosswalks, where criminals can blend in and watch the crowd for potential victims.
Drugging of Drinks
Another crime on the rise is the drugging of Westerner’s drinks at local bars and clubs. Substances such as scopolamine or rohypnol are slipped into an individuals' drink, which results in incapacitation. The victim is then robbed of their valuables. This crime does not only occur in bars and nightclubs, but also in residences and hotel rooms at the hands of "invited" guests. Additionally, victims may simply be encouraged to drink an excessive amount of alcohol in order to make them more vulnerable.
Road Conditions and Road Hazards
Over the last five years the number of vehicles on the road has significantly increased. As a result of increased traffic the number of accidents has increased, as many traffic laws are ignored and aggressive driving is common in Russia. At the same time, extreme weather conditions cause black ice, a challenge for any driver, and leaves large potholes on the road surface. One must exercise caution at all times when operating a vehicle in Russia. Individuals operating vehicles in Russia should be aware that there is a "zero tolerance" policy for driving while under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
Russia's economy and political stability steadily increased under President Putin's administration and have continued under Medvedev. This can be partly attributed to Russia's vast natural gas and petroleum reserves and Moscow's ability to maintain control of regional government offices. Based on the current political and economic environment, it is unlikely that Russia will experience any major incidents of civil unrest within the general population in near term. However, with the price of oil having fallen beneath the value used to calculate state revenues and the devaluing of the ruble, a sustained downturn could lead to instability in the future.
Currently there are no groups specifically targeting U.S. interests in Russia, but this does not negate the possibility of attacks in the future.
Domestic Terrorism and Organized Crime
Indigenous terrorist groups are still active in parts of Russia. Their activities range from vehicle bombings to armed militant attacks on government facilities. There are several different terrorist/extremist factions operating throughout the country – mostly in/around the North Caucasus region. Americans are urged not to travel to this area.
Serious criminal acts, such as kidnapping and murder, continue to be a major concern in Russia, especially in the North Caucasus area. Many of these incidents can be linked to organized crime groups with ties to various business enterprises operating throughout Russia.
Organized Crime and Business
It is not uncommon for American companies to encounter problems with extortion and corruption in the Russian business environment. Organized criminal groups can target businesses in many cities and are frequently known to demand protection money under threat of violence. A significant number of Russian businesses are forced to pay a percentage of their revenue to a "krysha" or "roof." This payment is intended to ensure the person soliciting the money will not harm the proprietor or business, and in return the protector is supposed to defend the business against other extortion attempts. This system also pervades most private security companies and even reaches into the ranks of law enforcement, who have found lucrative opportunities in the protection racket.
A history of corruption has inextricably linked crime and business. Rather than a dichotomy of honest businessmen and criminals, a range of shades of gray are found in the area of business and criminality. Organized crime activities are most prevalent in the spheres of Russian business, drug trafficking, and financial crimes; such as credit card fraud, cyber crimes, and prostitution.
In terms of government corruption, bureaucrats interested in using their positions to extract money from citizens and businesses continue to be a problem.
American businesses operating in Russia are susceptible to industrial espionage. There are some in Russia who are highly trained in gathering information, especially through unprotected computer networks. Many businesses employ counter surveillance techniques, such as video monitoring devices, alarm systems, and computer network protection programs.
The concept of "corporate raiding" in Russia differs significantly from the practice in the West. Businesses operating in Russia face a serious threat of hostile takeover through a variety of means. These include forced bankruptcy, lawsuits, counterfeiting official documents, bribes to public officials and judges, and even the physical seizure of a business by armed guards or police. Other ways a business can be raided is through the manipulating stock shares, boards of directors, and land ownership records.
Companies can greatly decrease their chances of falling victim to these schemes by proper planning, verifying the bona fides of potential partners, and researching local business practices and laws. American businesses should conduct detailed pre-employment screening and background checks on all Russian partners and staff. Verify the reputation of organizations when using local services for banking, security, and medical treatment. Be cautious in the amount of information that you provide to these institutions; it is not uncommon that some of these organizations have employees that have passed sensitive personal medical, financial, and banking information to criminals. The information passed to these groups is often sold or used to threaten and extort businesses and their employees. American businesses in Russia are responsible and can be held liable for any illegal or malicious actions on the part of their staff, especially any staff with connections to organized crime.
There are various groups in Russia that hold annual rallies or demonstrations. These are typically peaceful, but on occasion some have become violent. The Russian government expends a great amount of resources to counteract any such protest by deploying numerous barricades and militia officers. These protests frequently occur next to the Russian "White House" (federal government office building).
The Embassy continues to monitor domestic political events closely. While the current situation appears stable, the economy's heavy dependence on high energy prices could make sudden changes in public attitudes toward the government possible in some scenarios.
Earthquakes are not common occurrences in Russia. During the spring thaw, however, the potential for flooding is possible.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
Russia has been plagued by industrial accidents due to poor safety standards and little enforcement of legal safety procedures in the work place. This applies to overland commercial shipping as well. Vehicles are randomly stopped for inspection, where operators may be forced to pay a bribe to the inspector to continue on his/her way. Fines and facility closures are normally enforced only after an accident has occurred.
The number of kidnappings appears to have decreased in recent years after a reduction in violence in the Caucasus and reduced level of violent crime associated with business disputes and organized crime rings. Travelers should still exercise extreme caution in less-stable areas like the North Caucasus region.
Drugs and Narco-terrorism
Drug-related crimes are on the increase in Russia. Russia is both a transit and consumer country for Afghan opiates (heroin, opium). The opiates are transported from Afghanistan through Central Asia to Russia. In addition to opiates, Russia has been experiencing an increase in the amount of cocaine being imported in recent years. Cocaine shipments are being brought into Russia from South America through various means, including seaports.
How to handle incidents of police detention or harassment
Normally, police responsiveness is satisfactory. However, there have been some reports from American citizens that the police were unprofessional and unwilling to deal with incidents of crime. In some cases, local law enforcement even failed to take action even when witnessing crimes in progress.
The U.S. Embassy has received several reports from American citizens that the police mistreated or victimized them when reporting a crime. While personnel under diplomatic status generally are not approached, tourists and business travelers often report the solicitation of bribes by police officers.
The practice of racial profiling is also widespread. In one 2007 study, 95 percent of individuals stopped by Militia officers in the Moscow Metro stations were ethnic minorities.
American citizens should report all crimes immediately to the police and to the American Citizen Services section of the nearest embassy or consulate. If detained by the police, it is recommended the individual contact American Citizen Services at the nearest embassy or consulate.
Visitors to Russia should assume their movements and conversations may be monitored at all times by host government personnel. Discretion should be exercised because privacy cannot be assured, even in hotel rooms or vehicles.
If You are Victim of a Crime
When involved in a traffic accident in Russia, immediately report it to the State Inspectorate for Traffic Security (GIBDD). Note that GIBDD response to traffic accidents is often very slow.
In the event police assistance is required in Moscow, the following numbers within the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) should be called. Keep in mind that it is unlikely that an English-speaking officer will answer the telephone.
Police contact numbers - Moscow
- General fire emergency number: 01
- General police emergency number: 02
- Moscow City Criminal Investigative Division 24-hour duty officer:
- Moscow City MVD Economic Crimes Division 24-hour duty officer:
200-9636, 200-8540, 204-8641.
Medical and emergency care standards within Russia are lower than those in the U.S. Western-standard medical and dental clinics do exist in Moscow, but availability can vary. Prior to travel or relocation to Russia, individuals are encouraged to check the embassy web-site or contact the American Citizen Services Section at the Embassy Moscow Consular Section to obtain up to date information on medical facilities.
Emergency Medical Contact Information-Moscow
- Ambulance: 03
- Euromed Clinic: 933-6655
- American (Family) Clinic: 937-5757
- Michurinsky Hospital: 143-2503
Travel Precautions: Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Maintain awareness of your environment and the people around you. Make sure that your belongings are secure in your residence or hotel, restaurants, and tourist areas. Be on the lookout for any individuals loitering around you or your home.
Never assume that you can blend into your surroundings in Russia; anyone can be a victim. You should avoid wearing or carrying items that mark you as a foreigner, such as logo clothing, shorts, baseball caps, bags and backpacks, among others.
Exercise caution and common sense when visiting nightclubs and other late-night establishments. Never leave your drinks unattended, especially when sitting with strangers. This type of drugging can also present a high risk of physical and sexual assault. In addition, never accept a beverage in an open or re-sealable container from a stranger or recent acquaintance.
Outbreaks of violence between criminal gangs have been known to occur in Russia. These incidents can happen on city streets and in various establishments. They can result in physical assaults, shootings, and bombings. Soccer hooliganism is also on the rise and such groups may target fans of rival clubs.
Carrying guns in Russia is illegal. However, private bodyguards and security personnel are authorized to carry such weapons. Some of these individuals can be seen at locations frequented by Westerners, such as hotels, nightclubs, and restaurants. Often times, these weapons may be visible inside belts on holsters. Criminals are also known to carry guns and knives. Always walk away from any altercation you encounter, such as a fight or verbal dispute.
Carry your passport and visa with you at all times (or a copy). Keep this document in a pocket not easily accessible by pickpockets. You should also make an extra photocopy of your passport biographic data page and Russian visa. Keep these copies in a safe location in the event that your passport is stolen. The loss or theft of U.S. passports should be reported immediately to the local police, U.S. Embassy, or nearest U.S. Consulate. If a Russian visa is lost or stolen, it must be replaced with the assistance of the Russian sponsor.
Travelers or residents should avoid keeping large amounts of cash in a hotel room or at home. It is a good idea to make photocopies of the front and back of your credit cards so you have the account numbers and telephone numbers to report them lost or stolen.
For those residing in Russia, or staying for an extended amount of time, make sure that all doors and windows are securely closed and locked at your residence. The doors to your home should be solid wood or steel and secured with a strong, properly installed lock. Installing an alarm system and intercom can also increase the security of your residence.
When entering your home or hotel in the evening, be cautious of any individuals loitering near the entrance, lobby, stairwell, and elevator. Women in particular should avoid returning home alone in the evening if at all possible. There have been several incidents reported of Americans being assaulted and robbed by individuals waiting near buildings where foreigners are known to live.
Avoiding Scams and Other Crimes
The "turkey drop" is a street scam usually perpetrated by two or more individuals, who attempt to lure an unsuspecting victim into a confrontation. While one individual drops a conspicuous amount of currency on the ground in front of the victim, a second perpetrator waits for the money to be picked up by the pedestrian, or picks up the money himself and offers to split it with the pedestrian. The individual who dropped the currency generally returns once the targeted pedestrian has engaged with the other perpetrator, aggressively accusing both his accomplice and the pedestrian of stealing the money. This provokes a confrontation that usually leads to the pedestrian removing their wallet to prove their innocence, which then can result in the pedestrian's money being stolen.
A variation of this scam involves a third individual who quickly arrives on the scene, passing themselves off as a security/police official, who then coerces the victim to remove their wallet and passport. Foreigners in Moscow are frequent targets of this scam, particularly in and around the major hotels and the Red Square/Kremlin vicinity. If someone comes up to you with a roll of money, or if you observe one on the ground in front of you, quickly move away and leave the area. Under no circumstances should you remove or hand over your wallet.
When purchasing antiques, be sure to buy these items from reputable dealers. There are many vendors who will sell counterfeit or replicas as genuine. Any items such as icons, paintings, and antiques made prior to 1945 can be exported only with a permit from the Russian Ministry of Culture. The export duties on these items are currently set at 100 percent of their value, which is determined by Russian customs.
Staged vehicle accidents also present a problem in Russia. The U.S. Embassy has received information that an accident scam is operating on the Moscow Automobile Ring Road (MKAD) and larger city roads, targeting single drivers. According to information received, perpetrators will suddenly begin passing a vehicle with a single driver, gesturing that something is wrong with your car. As soon as you stop, a car drives up next to yours, and usually three individuals get out and inform you that about half a kilometer back, you hit their car. In order to make the situation more believable, the suspects will brush some steel wool long the side of your car. They will ask you to call your insurance company, who will inform you that since you left the scene of an accident, you violated the insurance policy. The suspects will then dial a suspect auto repair shop, which will quote a price ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles.
In order to discern a true State Inspection of Traffic Safety inspector (GIBDD) from an impostor, one should look for the following items: gray uniforms (never camouflage), a black and white short stick, and silver-red badges. The police should always provide their name, rank, and the reason for stopping your vehicle. A true inspector should never show up alone or without a police car.
While many people in Moscow flag private vehicles down for rides and pay the driver to transport them to their destination, this is a high-risk form of transportation that should be avoided. Travelers should take public transportation when at all possible and avoid using private taxis. Several robberies and assaults have taken place when the driver took the passenger somewhere other than the agreed-upon destination.
Never patronize unmarked taxis or enter any taxi already carrying passengers. Always agree upon the price and destination prior to entering the vehicle.
For Further Information
- U.S. Embassy Moscow telephone number 728-5000.
- American Embassy Regional Security Office (Monday through Friday,
0900-1800 hours): 728-5040
- American Citizen Services (Monday through Friday, 0900-1800
Travelers should visit the Consular Affairs homepage at:
Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
U.S. Embassy Moscow maintains an OSAC Country Council and continues to work with OSAC partners to encourage local American security managers to participate in OSAC activities. For further information on the Moscow Country Council visit www.osac.gov