Please note – the views in the following feature are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Safe Travels Magazine. Before travel, we recommend that you always do your own research, read travel advisories and buy appropriate travel insurance.

In the latest of our ‘Is it safe to …?’ series, we asked a range of experts if it is safe to go to Russia.

Government travel advice

Links to travel advice on visiting Russia from the following governments –

Please note that the travel advice varies – it is worth reading them all and reaching your own conclusion.

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Frank Figliuzzi, Chief Operating Officer at ETS Risk Management, Inc.

Email: Frank@ets-riskmanagement.com
Website: www.ets-riskmanagement.com
Twitter: @ExploreSecure

Frank Figliuzzi is the Chief Operating Officer of ETS Risk Management, Inc., a global provider of travel security, executive protection, threat intelligence and major event security. Frank is the former FBI Assistant Director of Counterintelligence, and recent head of Investigations, Special Event Security and Workplace Violence Prevention for General Electric.

How safe is it to visit Russia?

Virtually no travel to Russia is without risk.  Russia travel risk assessment is driven by three factors:

  1. Location specific inherent risks;
  2. The nature of the travel;
  3. and, The individual traveller.

For example, hate crimes against foreigners, minorities, and the LGBT community occur in Russia because of an apparent tolerance for such conduct as reflected in weak legislative prohibitions and an unwillingness to prosecute. Deadly terror attacks happen in Moscow, the north Caucasus and, most recently, St. Petersburg because of long-standing organic ethnic, religious and regional strife such as the Chechen/Russian conflict including possible sympathies for ISIS within the Chechen region.

Travel in connection with special events or sporting matches raises the already well documented daily risk of tourists targeted by pickpockets and muggers, often by organized gangs in major cities. Individual travellers of Asian or Afro-Caribbean descent or who simply “don’t look like they belong” in the eyes of certain locals should exercise particularly enhanced vigilance.

Business travellers should understand that electronic devices are frequently targeted for intrusion via malware and other means in an attempt by the Russian intelligence services to access proprietary corporate information for a competitive edge.

Despite the inherent risks, travellers who make the effort to seek the “ground truth” of their destination through their own government alerts, reading current country risk profiles offered by established security firms, and who maintain vigilance and a low-profile, can easily mitigate the risks and enjoy a memorable trip to a vast and proud nation.

How safe will it be to go to the World Cup?

Travelers to the World Cup are advised of the significant risk posed by organized hooligans who seek to engage in brutal fights with opposing fans from countries like Britain, France and other nations.

Russian hooliganism is marked by elements distinct from traditional hooliganism in the UK and Europe. Law enforcement agencies with decades of experience in securing soccer competitions have documented observations of Russian thugs who are highly trained and prepared to fight. These hooligans physically train in body-building and fight techniques and they make a point of not drinking alcohol during matches to maintain an advantage over their UK or European counterparts.

Disturbingly, Russian government leaders seemingly encourage such behaviour with Russian Ministers quoted saying “Keep up the good work”, and Putin himself observing how Russian fans had quite literally beaten the English fans.

However, a major world event such as the World Cup is likely to be secured by the highest level of Russian national security agencies who understand the negative impact globally of any major incident during the World Cup.  The largely incident-free Winter Olympics in Sochi, even under threat of terrorism, is evidence that Russian can secure a major event when it chooses.

What are the biggest risks?

Opportunistic crimes such as pick-pocketing and other thefts are common in major Russian cities. This risk includes theft from hotel rooms and theft from vehicles. Cases are well-documented of visitors whose drinks were spiked at bars for the purpose of robbery, rape or other violence. Unconscious victims are often left outside sometimes with life-threatening implications especially in the cold winter months. Further reports exist of criminals impersonating police officers for the purpose of harassing and robbing tourists.

What are the overlooked risks?

Travellers to Russia often overlook or dismiss the reality that the Russian government is in near total control of infrastructure which facilitates intelligence service targeting of western business and government travellers to include remote intrusion into their devices, or, even outright theft of their laptops, smart phones and other devices.

Similarly, hotel frequented by western travellers are particularly notorious for intelligence collection, entrapment and attempts to compromise western business and government visitors. This fact poses a dilemma for travellers seeking to avoid such targeting by possibly choosing a local, non-westernized hotel.

However, such a choice often increases the odds of opportunistic crimes such as theft or assault and can antagonize the intelligence services who may become perturbed by your diversion from the usual hotel chains.

How should people mitigate this?

Risk mitigation remains similar to advice given for most international travel.

Specifically, avoid open display of wealth, including expensive jewellery, and anything that may identify you as a tourist. Avoid walking alone at night. Be vigilant for pickpockets in main tourist areas and around the main railway stations, and keep your passport tightly secured. Always buy your own drinks at the bar and keep them in sight at all times.

To mitigate the risk of being victimized by “fake” police officers, always insist on seeing identification if you are stopped.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Russia have in place? What should employees ask for?

Business leaders sending employees to Russia are advised to include professional risk management measures into the travel plan.

These measures should include physical security guidance, protection of intellectual property, and potential medical consultation and even evacuation. The addition of enhanced security enables your team to focus on business objectives within minimal constraints or distractions.  Employees should ask for loaner devices to take that contain only the data needed for that trip and bring a reliable communication device.

Employees traveling for lengthy periods, particularly to more remote areas of Russia, should understand that the local hospital blood supply may not be screened for HIV and other diseases as is the standard in the US, UK and other nations. Therefore, employees should ask about medical evacuation plans in the event of an unexpected need for surgery.

Any corporate or organization carrying out group events, or individual wishing to use security should contact https://www.ets-riskmanagement.com at info@ets-riskmanagement.com.

Experts weigh in on how safe it is to visit Russia and what risks people might face when they attend the World Cup this summer.

Moscow, Russia by Tom Grimbert on Unsplash

Stephanos Chaillou, Political Risk Analyst for Europe and Russia at Allan & Associates

Email: SChaillou@allan-assoc.com
Website: www.allan-assoc.com
Twitter: @A2Globalrisk

Stephanos Chaillou is a political risk analyst specialising in Europe and Russia. Stephanos works at Allan & Associates, a security risk management consultancy, which provides a range of protective services from political risk assessments to crisis management response.

How safe is it to visit Russia?

In general, it is safe to travel to Russia as long as visitors take certain precautions. For instance, there is a moderate risk of theft and pickpocketing is common in crowded places such as metro stations. Even though cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg are generally quite safe, visitors should avoid volatile areas such as the North Caucasus region and areas near the Ukrainian border. Despite a ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and pro-Russia groups in February 2015, there have been continuous reports of violations from both sides.

How safe will it be to go to the World Cup?

It depends who you support. Following incidents that occurred during the 2016 Euro tournament in France, authorities in the UK have warned that English fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup could be particularly targeted by hooligans, particularly given the deterioration of relations since the UK government accused its Russian counterparts of the attempted murder of a former Russian spy earlier this month in Salisbury. In addition to safety concerns, the diplomatic dispute could also potentially lead to longer processing times for individuals applying for visas to travel to Russia for the World Cup.

Russian authorities have reassured fans travelling to the World Cup that measures will be in place to mitigate any potential violence from hooligans. Authorities have pointed to a recent crackdown on Russian hooligan groups before the UEFA Champions League games that took place in September last year, which occurred without any serious incidents. FIFA has said that it has “complete trust” that Russia will be able to protect visiting fans during the competition. It should also be noted that Russia has experience of successfully organising major sporting events such as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, although that was in a relatively isolated resort, whereas the World Cup is being held across  11 cities and is thus a more challenging security proposition.

What are the biggest risks?

One important risk to foreign nationals visiting Russia for the World Cup is the potential for verbal and physical abuse by xenophobic sections of the population, particularly for non-white travellers. There have been an increasing number of incidents against ethnic minority groups residing in Russia. LGBTQ travellers should also be wary. According to the Laboratory for Sexuality Research, Russian media reported on at least 363 of instances were crimes were committed against LGBT people between 2011 and 2016.

Football-related violence is a key risk that many visiting fans will face, particularly ones from countries such as England and Germany whose supporters are perceived to be prone to violent confrontation. Even though hooliganism is a relatively recent phenomenon in Russia, it has gained notoriety following the events in France during the 2016 Euro competition. Over 100 fans were injured following clashes between Russia and England supporters, before and after an England-Russia game in Marseille. Earlier this month, German authorities handed a Russian fan to France after arresting him in February.

Russian security forces are likely to use heavy-handed methods if they perceive foreign fans to be violent or abusive during the World Cup. Moreover, some reports suggest that foreign fans could face up to 15 years imprisonment if they engage in mass disorder as well as fines for consuming alcohol in public places, which is illegal in Russia.

A terrorist attack on landmarks and crowded places such as areas around football stadiums is a key risk for fans travelling for the World Cup. Groups affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) have threatened that terrorist attacks could take place during the tournament as a response to Russia’s military operations in Syria. There have been many terror-related incidents in Russia over the years, including one in which an improvised explosive device led to 15 fatalities in April 2017 in Saint Petersburg, and an incident in Siberia where seven people were stabbed last August.

A recent crackdown on terrorist groups has led to several foiled plots on Russia, including an incident earlier this month where security services killed two individuals who were allegedly planning an attack in Saratov, a city in southwest Russia. Despite the recent crackdown, it is particularly difficult to pre-empt attacks by “lone wolf” terrorists.

What are the overlooked risks?

Other potentially disruptive events would be anti-government protests that could take place during the tournament. There have been several anti-government protests in Russia during the general election campaign in March, and opposition groups could capitalise on the highly publicised event by organising large scale protests.

Another concern visitors should take into account is cyber-crime. For instance, professionals travelling to the World Cup for corporate functions and events face risks such as data theft and hacking. Sponsors of the World Cup include the U.S.-based payments company VISA, whose executives would likely be prime targets for data theft.  In August 2017 several news sources reported that a group of Russian hackers attempted to steal sensitive information such as passwords from businessmen and government officials by targeting hotels in seven European countries.

How should people mitigate this?

People should minimise the amount of time they spend in areas that are crowded with fans and tourists. While this will be challenging, especially during a sporting event such as the World Cup, it will minimise exposure to a potential terrorist attack or outbreaks of violence between supporters.

People travelling for the World Cup should be extra vigilant and always be aware of their surroundings. Visiting supporters should be careful not to antagonise local fans (e.g. through chants) and always be respectful of local customs and practices. They should also treat uniformed personnel with caution – they should not attempt to photograph them without permission, or to photograph military installations. As a result of the ongoing diplomatic row, the FCO has recommended that UK nationals visiting Russia during the World Cup “avoid commenting publicly on political developments”.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Russia have in place? What should employees ask for?

Employees should be fully briefed on the potential risks and provided with relevant information. This could be in the form of pocket sized maps with information about where the closest hospitals and police stations are in case of an emergency.  It should definitely include phone numbers to dial in case of emergency, including those of embassies and consulates.

Companies should also advise their employees to take extra care with any mobile devices they take with them. Employees should make sure that they use mobile electronic devices discreetly and not misplace any device that could provide access to confidential or sensitive information.

Experts weigh in on how safe it is to visit Russia and what risks people might face when they attend the World Cup this summer.

Golyanovo, Moscow, Russia by Alexander Popov on Unsplash

Matthew Davies FRGS, Director at Remote Area Risk International

Email: davies@R2Rinternational.com
Website: www.R2Rinternational.com

 

Matthew Davies FRGS is a Travel Risk Management and Remote Area Risk specialist, certified Duty of Care Practitioner – as well as a specialist lawyer within this area. He has over 25 years experience in the field, is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and has led expeditions in and trained teams for various environments including desert and arctic circle expeditions. He is a member of the drafting committee for BS:8848.

How safe is it to visit Russia?

This is a very big subject for a short article regarding a VERY large and diverse country so, necessarily, an overview:

FCO Travel Advice today :

“…due to heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia, you should be aware of the possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment at this time; you’re advised to remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations and avoid commenting publically on political developments.”

As ever, the answer is based on an individual risk assessment and it would take an essay to cover all the whys and wherefores. Taking into account a range of risks (crime, international relations, civil unrest, medical, environmental, political, kidnap and a number of others), Russia, generically, is a medium risk destination (bordering on high risk), with the threat highest in Moscow and the North Caucasus but that is a generic rating and the devil is always in the detail. This is where your Duty of Care considerations come in. For some elements within the risk considerations, Russia is a high risk destination. Individual risk assessments – who is going? Why? What are they doing when they get there – and with whom? Does their activity clash or conflict with those in positions of power?

At the time of writing, the week has seen not so barbed threats directed at UK interests post the Salisbury poisonings of ex Russian Agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. Widely reported, the UK blames the Russians and the Russians deny this vehemently.

The situation is very fluid with developments by the day. The British Council is being impacted, and tit for tat expulsions of diplomats have occurred. It is possible that UK interests in particular may be impacted. This may all be overtaken by events.

How safe will it be to go to the World Cup?

This depends on a number of factors including the political situation, who you are, your behaviour and whether you are, for example, travelling in a large group. There are many other factors.

There has been historical violence between Russian football hooligans and UK nationals such as at Euro 2016. It has been suggested by perpetrators that this was instigated or encouraged by the Russian Government. If the international relations between the UK and Russia deteriorate further, this aspect of the World Cup may feature in headlines during the event.

A “Festival of Violence” has been promised by Russian hooligans. In response, security is reported as being stepped up at many locations.

Don’t lose sight of the basics – illness, accidents etc. Take out travel insurance (always). Headline risks are important to note, but only a part of the safety/travel risk jigsaw.

What are the biggest risks?

See above. Russia also has sporadic terrorist attacks on public locations. This is highly likely to happen again.

The highest frequency incidents, as anywhere, are road traffic accidents and health related issues. Don’t be complacent.

Right now, be extra vigilant as a UK national. Risks may be aimed at UK businesses rather than individuals.

What are the overlooked risks?

Travellers are often complacent regarding the basics. It is more likely you will be injured in a car crash than a terrorist or hooligan related incident.

How should people mitigate this?

Travel insurance, awareness, proper prior planning.

In respect of the World Cup:

The UK Government has issued event specific advice for the World Cup. Follow it. Keep an eye on developments between now and the event, avoid obvious nationality advertising dress, avoid large, public gatherings with UK nationals before and after the matches.

Keep a low profile and keep an eye on potential ‘escape routes’ and places to seek refuge if there are crowd related problems. For example, if there is a riot or violence in the streets one evening, you will have been well served by avoiding areas popular with drinking football fans, and to have cast a weathered eye over a building or location that you can secure yourself inside while items are being thrown and violence potentially perpetrated.

Also see the answer below.

What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Russia have in place? What should employees ask for?

Consider the points raised above, ensure that you have travel insurance, read and follow FCO advice. Keep up to date with developments and if there is heightened risk at the time, ensure good and regular communications.

Individual risk assessments are key. Does what you are going to do there put you in a higher risk category? Have you considered all aspects?

Finally, take professional advice. Generic articles are, by necessity, generic. You are not, your business is not, and your travellers are not.

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