I'm a Ph.D. student from the United States, and I'm planning on attending an academic conference in Moscow this December as a participant (not an invited speaker). When I attempt to register for the conference, I'm asked whether I need a visa, and when I respond that I do, I'm told that I need to send a digital scan of my passport to an email address that I assume belongs to one of the assistant conference organizers. I understand that this is probably standard operating procedure, but I've never traveled to Russia before, and I'm a little wary of providing a copy of my passport to somebody I don't know who isn't affiliated with a governmental organization. I do know several of the professors and researchers who are speaking, but they all hold Russian citizenship, so I don't think any of them have to go through the same process of acquiring a visa through the host university.
(1) How large are the potential repercussions of sending a copy of my passport to somebody in Russia who I presume is affiliated with the host university but whom I don't know personally? Should I instead ask the point of contact for the required written statement of purpose and attempt to apply for the visa myself?
(2) Should I be at all concerned about potential changes in the geopolitical situation between the U.S. and Russia between now and December? Although I tend to be pretty optimistic, my family seems concerned that I as an American academic would travel to Russia at a somewhat fractious time in our post-Cold War relationship.
Thanks very much in advance for your advice.