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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.

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    Apply for your own visa. For the conference organiser, take a scan of your passport's portrait page and then redact the machine readable portion on the bottom and your date of birth leaving your name and the last 4 digits of your passport number visible. For your 2nd question, you're off and away to the Siberian labour camps never to be heard from again; or alternatively I wouldn't worry about it :) – Gayot Fow Aug 16 '17 at 3:58
  • No kidding, I have fairly close relatives who died in Siberian labor camps. My cousin Józef lost his mother that way, and one of my great-uncles was captured as an organizer in the Polskie Państwo Podziemne. Which might be why my family is a bit apprehensive.... That being said, I'm not particularly worried. :) – Michael Lee Aug 16 '17 at 4:11
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This is a standard procedure. For US citizens (and many others) to get Russian visa an "invitation" is required. The party responsible to get this invitation is called "sponsor", and it is obtained from Russian MVD (ministry of internal affairs). To apply for "invitation" a copy of your passport is required (this site is official site of Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs; passport copy is listed in #2.1). So this is ok.

Now to your other questions:

(1) I'm unsure what a copy of your passport would be good for. Probably the most sensitive part of it is your signature which could be used to apply for a loan under your name. But if someone in Russia is willing to put this scam on you, it won't matter - corruption in Russia is such that whether a Russian court decides you owe money or not depends on totally different things. Which brings us to (2)

(2) You should certainly be concerned, but there is no need to be paranoid. Just be careful, stay out of politics and remember that free speech in Russia (this includes academic free speech) is different. As in the old joke:

George Bush talks to Putin:

Bush: you know, Vladimir, the USA has freedom of speech. Anyone can walk to White House and scream "George Bush is a moron and he should be impeached!", and the government would do no harm to him!

Putin: well, we have freedom of speech in Russia too. Anyone can walk to Kremlin and scream "George Bush is a moron and he should be impeached!", and the government would do no harm to him either!

One thing to be aware of is a much higher possibility to be misinterpreted. If you plan to give any interviews, expect your words to be misquoted, used out of context, or misinterpreted. Depending on your personality and area of expertise, this may or may not be an issue. The only way to avoid this is not to give any interviews to Russian media. This however would probably the worst case scenario.

  • I would avoid speaking about religion and LGBT as well as politics. Common views on those subjects in Russia are quite different to American. – Val Aug 16 '17 at 9:33
  • I would spare that old bearded joke about freedom of speech. The freedom of speach if very limited in US/Canada as well. People go to prison for expressing their views, as well as in Russia. Only the scope of 'accepted thoughts' is shifted. – Rg7x gW6a cQ3g Aug 17 '17 at 7:41
  • In Russia people are prosecuted for expressing political or LGBT views. Notably many public figures opposing Putin ended up convicted, jailed or in exile for the sole reason of opposing Putin. Looking forward for similar examples for US/Canada. – George Y. Aug 17 '17 at 21:25

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