This piece follows the same format as our ‘Is it safe to …?‘ series, exploring the risks visitors to Russia might face. Nikita offers very in depth and detailed answers, as well as practical and actionable advice that will be of value to both tourists and business travellers.
You can read more excellent advice in our earlier piece – Expert Advice: Is it safe to go to Russia and to attend the World Cup?
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.
Nikita Maksimov, Global Operations Officer at Drum Cussac
Nikita is a Global Operations Officer at the Risk Management Company Drum Cussac and he focuses on providing analysis, risk management and active overwatch of clients and their assets. His specific areas of interest and expertise are Russia and the Common Wealth of Independent States.
A profile of Russia and the issues visitors to the World Cup might face
How safe is it to visit Russia?
The Russian Federation is a vast country with a numerous variety of cultures, languages and environments all of which affect safety concerns of both tourists as well as businesses already operating and those wishing to operate there. Violent and petty crime are the main risk which visitors are more likely to face than any other, whatever their destination inside the country. While mostly affecting the country’s southern regions, terrorism also poses a threat in cities like Moscow and St Petersburg.
However Russia also maintains a very large and effective internal security apparatus. Along with its recently restructured police service it also maintains Rossgvardia, an institution akin to a National Guard which frequently helps police public places and performs the exact same duties as the police. In more provincial areas such as the many autonomous republics militia units usually in the form of Cossacks help provide an additional layer of law enforcement. This significantly reduces the threat to foreign and business visitor from both crime and far less common terrorist activity.
Most locations in Russia excluding the Republic Dagestan and Chechnya are relatively safe to travel to. Once one understands the general security environment of the country it becomes easy to mitigate existing risks and prepare for any peculiarities present in more specific locations.
How safe is it to go to the World Cup?
The upcoming World Cup is a massive and highly important undertaking for the country both in terms of infrastructural projects as well as the prestige which comes along with it. Due to the importance of the event the Russian State has expended an enormous amount of resources in order to ensure that the venues are safe and easy to use by foreign nationals and Russian citizens. Many of the cities where the Cup will be held are seeing large improvements in infrastructure as well as pollution reduction just to make the World Cup as attractive to foreign visitors and spectators and show the country in as positive a light as possible.
While none of the eleven cities which will host various matches are particularly dangerous some pose a unique environment in terms of specific threats as well as the degree to which they are susceptible to them.
The capital will be hosting the most matches during the World Cup and will therefore attract the largest amounts of visitors. The city frequently hosts large events sports and otherwise and has the sufficient security infrastructure to ensure their safety. The city has an extensive underground system which helps avoid frequent traffic jams. Security services are quick to respond to reports of suspicious packages or any other possible threats and carry out operations in a professional manner. Police frequently patrol public places and check passers-by for identification. This is a common practice across Russia and foreign visitors are advised to carry their identification documents or copies of them at all times.
Following the bombing of two stations in the St Petersburg Underground in 2017, new security measures have been installed across the city, as well as country-wide. Metal detectors were put at every metro station, and inter-operability between the security and transport authorities of Moscow and other cities has greatly increased leading to higher safety standards. St Petersburg, like Moscow, maintains a large and professional police force which is capable of responding to any threats.
Kaliningrad is a part of a small Russian enclave which it as a successor state of the USSR acquired following the Second World War. Due to its unique location it sees frequent travel by EU citizens as well as other foreign visitors. Kaliningrad is relatively safe in regards to terrorism with the main threat being active ultra-nationalist and neo-Nazi groups the members of which frequently get arrested in raids by local police.
Sochi is a frequent tourist destination visited by wealthy Russians as well as foreign travellers. Due to this it has a highly developed infrastructure and security services especially considering its size. The city has also hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics without incident despite serious security concerns due to its close proximity to the troubled republics of Dagestan and Chechnya. It is likely that the Russian government will treat the security of the World Cup with as much seriousness if not more than the Olympics and ensure adequate security.
A chemical plant located along the banks of the river Volga in the city has intermittently suspended its work in order to lessen the output of pollution it produces in order to make the city more safe and attractive to visitors prior to the cup. Multiple businesses are guilty of frequent violations of environmental and safety regulations which often go unpunished. This is another of the extraordinary lengths to which for better or for worse the Russian government is willing to go to give the best impression to those visiting. Currently a new underground station and line extension are being constructed next to the stadium.
Kazan is seeing a large amount of infrastructural development much as the other cities to effectively facilitate the world cup. There have not been any major security incidents in the city recently. Arguably the biggest danger comes from road traffic incidents which are a frequent cause of fatalities but will likely decrease in frequency after thaw.
What are the biggest risks?
Hooliganism and football violence is very prevalent in Russia, as well as among Russian fans who travel abroad. Russian hooligans often partake in violence and vandalism when supporting their respective teams. In the last decade or so a new more organised and arguably more violent strain of football hooligans have emerged the so-called Ultras. While Ultras do pose a significant and frequent threat at football matches on a national level, as do general fights between supporters of Russian clubs, the effect these groups will have on the World Cup is hard to predict. Recently Russian ultras and supporters of the Moscow CSKA and Spartak were involved in fights and unrest in France and Spain during games of the Europe League.
In order to make sure that no members of the Ultras or fans with a history of violence attend the event local security authorities have implemented new security measures. A so-called Fan ID is one of these measures. In order to attend a match in any of the cities one must acquire a Fan ID together with a ticket. This can either be done on an official website – https://www.fan-id.ru/ – or in person at a registration centre. A similar system was successfully implemented by Russian security services during the 2014 Winter Olympics to stop opposition activists from attending and disrupting the event.
Despite recent decreases in terms of violent crimes Russia still has a high crime rate – one of the highest in Europe. Violent crimes, even in larger cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg, often involve firearms and non-lethal firearms (containing rubber bullets) which are very easy to get hold of. Petty crime such as muggings and pick pocketing are also very frequent and are more likely to affect business travellers, especially if they happen to be alone at night and or inebriated.
The sheer number of internal security staff and the arguably effective inter-institutional cooperation help ensure that most public spaces are well and frequently policed. In major cities police and other law enforcement agencies are also good at preparing for large events such as national holidays, protests or major sport events.
Terror attacks whether from lone-wolf perpetrators or organised terror groups have been known to occur in a variety of cities and settlements in Russia including Moscow and the surrounding area. However due to increased police presence and frequent counter-terror operations the attacks are no more frequent in major Russian cities than they are in their Western European counterparts. Following the St Petersburg metro bombing last year stringent security measures have been implemented across the country which has led to better response times and prevention. The largest danger from terrorist attacks as well as operations from terrorist groups exists in the republics of Dagestan and Chechnya.
Both republics are situated along the Caucasus Mountains which provide for ideal territory from which insurgent and terror groups can operate and plan attacks. Following the cessation of the second Chechen War the insurgent groups which were previously concerned with nationalism and independence have shifted to Fundamentalist Islamic ideology and goals of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in the Caucuses. Dagestan and Chechnya both see frequent attacks on military and police outposts which often cause fatalities. Civilians and public places of gatherings are also sometimes targeted.
One of the more recent and high-profile attacks involved a gunman shooting up a church in the town of Kizlyar in Dagestan. The attack is thought to have been carried out by a sleeper cell of the Islamic State which has seen an increase of influence in the Caucasus region. It must also be noted that the internal security forces inside said republics especially in Chechnya are more prone to corruption and extrajudicial violence than most of Russia sometimes even leading to conflicts between them and Russian Federal security authorities.
What are the overlooked risks?
Road Traffic Collisions and Accidents
The biggest dangers of visiting or living in Russia which is often overlooked are the road traffic accidents and the dangerous driving that is one of their main causes.
Accidents involving motor vehicles in Russia are relatively frequent and deaths resulting from them are high when compared to the majority of European countries. Largely this is due to the aggressive style of driving and lack of proper experience of new drivers.
Road rage can often escalate to an unforeseen level when compared to most countries in the world with drivers starting fights and sometimes utilising firearms or non-lethal weaponry. While roads and other infrastructure are being improved specifically for the upcoming World Cup, it is still in a very bad state country-wide. Many roads suffer from potholes due to bad quality of work as well as harsh weather during the winter. The repairing of potholes and roads is also carried out improperly due to corruption and often creates frequent traffic jams all year round.
During winter in icy conditions collisions between private vehicles, as well as accidents involving public transportation, are very common. December last year, due to winter conditions and bad infrastructure, multiple incidents occurred where buses crashed into bus stations killing and injuring dozens in the process.
One of the major shortfalls of Russian law enforcement lies in the lack of ability to respond in a timely manner to crimes, especially if they are nonviolent in nature. Another shortfall which is likely to affect business travellers and tourists is the lack of English and non-Russian speakers. Corruption is a problem permeating all levels of Russian society and its institutions, however it is unlikely to affect the reporting of a crime or the initial response of the police. One also must also consider that if one is a business traveller and foreign citizen, the police will be less likely to harass the individual due to the possible harm it may cause to their career if reported. Likewise, sexual misconduct and assault may at times not be properly processed by local police officials.
How Should People Mitigate This?
Due to the vast distances between cities visitors should plan their travel carefully. Most of the eleven cities have their own or nearby airports some of which serve international as well as domestic flights. The country also possesses a developed railway network with high speed train services between Moscow and St Petersburg. A World Cup 2018 ticket holder can also apply for free rail or bus travel between the different cities utilising the http://en.transport2018.com website.
While travelling in Russian cities it is best to utilise reputable taxi carriers. One could book them from the hotel. Yandex.Taxi is an online taxi booking service providing the largest amount of cabs in the country. Over all taxi fares are relatively cheap across Russia even if one uses the aforementioned services. It is best not to self drive in Russia due to the high risk of accidents and aggressive driving. Russian cities often face traffic congestion and this is one of the reasons why so many have underground metro and tram networks.
Visitors to Russia should familiarise themselves with numbers of emergency services and the consulates and embassies of their home country. The latter will be important in ameliorating any incident health or security related.
Demonstrations and pickets should be avoided. Even the smallest protests in Russia can devolve into violence as well as be faced with counter protests. Local police often temporarily detain protesters or even those in close vicinity, even if they have not perpetrated any crimes. The environment in Russian police stations and jails can be very unpleasant and water and food may not be provided.
While in public places it is best to act confident and to be aware of your surroundings. Most locals will be friendly and attempt to help a foreign visitor if lost, but some petty criminals may attempt to take advantage of a person lost or in distress.
Travellers should avoid getting severely drunk while in Russia both during the World Cup and during regular travel. Petty criminals will often target intoxicated foreigners especially if alone. Drunken crowds should also be avoided due to the likelihood of violence. If confronted by a person with acting in a violent manner it is best to leave.
Subway underpasses are areas of frequent harassment faced by lone travellers especially at night. Over all it is better to travel in groups and avoid such locations unless it is necessary. This is especially the case for female travellers as they may be subject to harassment.
What duty of care provisions should employers sending staff to Russia have in place? What should employees ask for?
One of the most important things to consider for any foreign national visiting Russia is heath care and appropriate health insurance. While it is largely free to Russian citizens and first aid will be provided to foreign citizens hospitalization is subject to private insurance policies.
While healthcare in Russia mostly adheres to European standards some hospitals in the south and east of the country as well as on the outskirts of major cities such as Moscow and St Petersburg can lack in hygiene and modern equipment. Due to this employers must research the best facilities and employees must familiarise themselves with their locations.
Depending on the city or region of the country a thorough risk analysis should be made by a reputable provider such as Drum Cussac. If the place of the visit is one with severe risks or if the visit is a part of a large business operation on the ground support and journey management should be sought.
Due to the event spanning 11 cities and the high dynamism of the security environment employers should monitor their employees during their stay by arranging welfare checks and informing them of any potential security incidents. This type of Overwatch service can also be provided by risk management companies such as Drum Cussac with their own platforms and Apps designed specifically for this purpose.
You may also be interested in the Drum Cussac white paper – Security + travel risk analysis for the 2018 FIFA Russia World Cup.
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