The reality of the safety situation in Russia is all too often obscured by Hollywood images of a dark underworld rife with criminal activity. Expats should realise that these seedy stereotypes are just inaccurate generalisations, and foreigners who take the appropriate precautions usually enjoy a crime-free stay in the country. That said, it’s still important that those moving to Russia are aware of the potential threats.
Theft, scams and extortion in Russia
Theft and extortion are the most common crimes against foreigners in Russia. Most petty and opportunistic crimes occur in areas associated with public transport, underground pedestrian crosswalks, and popular tourist attractions. Expats should be mindful of their belongings when in these locations.
ATM-related robberies and fraud are also something of a problem in major cities. Expats should be mindful about which ATMs to use; those found in reputable banking institutions are usually best. Car burglaries also occur, and expats should make a habit of removing any items of value from plain view in their vehicle.
Russian scammers have become creative, and even police impersonations have been reported to various embassies. A good practice is never to show a wallet or passport to anyone until asked to do so by someone with proper accreditation.
Police corruption in Russia
Even powerful politicians argue that corruption is something of a cultural tradition. As a result, expats will need to be wary that police officers may be less law-abiding than they expect, although this is not always the case.
If stopped by a police or traffic officer and made to feel victimised, note the officer’s name, badge number, patrol number and where and when the incident happened. If asked for a bribe, a good way to mediate the situation is to ask to speak to the officer’s superior.
Racially-motivated crime in Russia
Crimes against ethnic minorities in Russia, such as Africans, Asians and Arabs, are a problem. Verbal assault and spitting are the most common offences, though reports of physical assault and extortion are also cited. This bigoted behaviour can largely be attributed to extremist nationalist groups. Though intimidation tactics and demonstrations occasionally occur in Russian cities, expats should note that these actions are not common, and most expats won't experience them.
Terrorism in Russia
A number of terrorist attacks have occurred in Russia over the years. Government buildings, transport infrastructure, airports, hotels, entertainment venues, residential complexes and schools have all been targeted.
Recent attacks have been linked to unrest in the North Caucasus region, where Islamist militants continue to fight for independence from Russia. Expats are advised to avoid this region and any areas along Russia's western border with Ukraine, including Crimea.
Driving safety in Russia
Accidents are frequent and road rage is common in Russia. Extreme weather exacerbates the situation, causing 'black ice' and dangerous conditions. Foreigners planning to drive in Russia should always drive defensively, maintain patience in all situations, and always carry proper documentation, including their passport and visa.