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In the light of all the recent happenings, and especially the Brittney Griner detention, is it safe for a foreigner from a western European country to visit Russia as a traveler? The question is specifically about possible problems with the officials (at the border and otherwise), not so much about general safety of the country.

Has the likelihood of being detained and imprisoned for no good reason increased noticeably lately? Or is it in general pretty much the same as it used to be one or two years ago if the person is not of a particular interest (e.g. not a public figure)?

Should that traveler be more cautious or mindful about doing specific things that previously were of no concern?

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 9 at 18:49
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    Just got back from vacation in Russia, about a month ago. I have 2 passports - Russian and US ones. When I was crossing the border (both in and out) I told them I have the US passport. No problem at all. The only time I was asked more questions than usual was at the entry point in the US. Aug 10 at 0:48

7 Answers 7

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No source is given, however the UK government travel advice page for Russia says: ”There have been multiple reports of intensive security checks on foreign nationals at Russian border crossings upon entry/exit. Travellers may be subject to the detailed questioning, taking of fingerprints and DNA swab tests, and requests to switch on electronic devices for content checking.”

And ”The ability of the FCDO and the British Embassy in Moscow to help in the case of an emergency will be severely limited.”

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/russia

I imagine the advice/warnings will be similar irrespective of which western European country you’re from. Russia is a no-go zone from a personal safety and a moral standpoint, IMHO.

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I am a citizen of a Western country and moved out of Russia shortly after the start of the current large-scale military conflict despite having some unfinished business in Russia, and since then I've been closely monitoring news and social media to see how risky it is to return to Russia. Also, I grew up in Russia, am a native Russian speaker, and have a good understanding how things work there in general.

In short, my answer to your question is that if you

  • REALLY need to go to Russia AND

  • are NOT a dual citizen who has Russian citizenship AND

  • are not of a particular interest (e.g., not a public figure) AND

  • are prepared to meticulously observe numerous personal safety precautions necessitated by the current situation in Russia AND

  • are going to spend as few days in Russia as possible AND

  • are not going to visit regions close to the combat areas AND

  • have a clear purpose of your visit and can convincingly explain and evidence it when crossing the border AND

  • fully understand the relevant custom and immigration rules, including the address reporting requirements, and are prepared to observe them to the letter AND

  • have not written any anti-Russian or anti-Putin posts or articles under your real name,

then it might be worth taking your trip to Russia. Otherwise I'd recommend refraining from the trip.

I will now make a few points to explain things:

(1) What many Westerners do not realize about Russia is that in Russia you have an elevated risk of getting in the wrong place at the wrong time. Police may mistakenly take you for someone else and beat you up to make you admit to having done what they believe you did. You may get arrested for participating in an unlawful protest despite having just walked down the street. If you get ill, you may become a victim of terrible medical malpractice due to the doctor's negligence or bad skills. You may get mugged. You may get served food that will make you sick. There are really a multitude of possibilities of how things can go terribly wrong for you in Russia.

The current situation has made things even worse. Now you may be convicted just for a post contradicting the Russian narrative about the military conflict or criticizing Russia's actions - there is a fresh law about that. I haven't seen reports of this actually happening to foreigners - except that a Ukrainian living in Russia was fined about 500$ under that law - but the law doesn't differentiate between Russians and foreigners, so don't expect you are owed a special treatment by law. Also, many Russians believe what the Russian TV says, and some are hostile towards Americans as a result. A week ago a black man was severely beaten up in Saint Petersburg by people shouting, "You are American and those like you are killing our soldiers." Getting beaten by drunk people has always been a risk in Russia, but this risk may have increased as a result of many Russians experiencing economic hardship, losing jobs, and believing the anti-Western narrative.

(2) If you are a dual citizen who has Russian citizenship, you may be unable to leave Russia if Russia declares martial law during your visit. This doesn't seem very likely to occur soon, but is a widely discussed possibility.

(3) Russian border control officers pick travelers for detailed interviews and may demand unlocking your smartphone or a laptop. If they find anything suggesting you have anti-Russian or anti-Putin views, you may get in trouble. However, I've seen only reports about such searches happening to Russians leaving Russia, not foreigners entering Russia. Still, you have to be prepared for that and clean your devices of everything that might be deemed incriminating.

(4) You may get in trouble if you are suspected of having come to Russia to help ignite protests or with some other anti-government intent. The Russians may do truly terrible things to foreigners considered unfriendly to the current regime in Russia. Have a clear purpose of your visit to Russia and be ready to explain and evidence it.

(5) Since Russia has been essentially cut out of the Western financial system, you have to bring cash with you to cover your expenses in Russia. If your cash gets stolen, I don't know what you can do to cover your expenses in Russia. (A comment below says Bitcoin exchanges are still working, and another comment says a Union Pay card may work in Russia if you get one before you travel there.) Have at least a return ticket booked in advance.

(6) You have to carefully check the current custom and immigration rules and observe them to the letter. There have been changes since the start of the large-scale military conflict. In particular, now you can't take more than 10,000$ in cash out of Russia, no matter the currency. When I moved out of Russia, I was explicitly warned by the Russian customs that if they found any cash in excess of that, it would have to be seized. This restriction was introduced shortly after the start of the full-scale military conflict. Many rules remain as they were before, but their violations may be treated more seriously now, especially if you are from a country on the so-called Unfriendly Countries List.

(7) Most importantly, you should understand that since Russia is engaged in a large-scale military conflict, the situation in Russia may suddenly change at any time. Recall what happened in Kazakhstan at the beginning of this year - and Russia is going through something much more serious than a fuel price raise like the one that triggered mass violence in Kazakhstan.

That said, there have been no reports of mass arrests or detentions of foreigners in Russia so far, so it might be justifiable to take a short trip to Russia if you really have to and understand the risks outlined above.

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    Great answer! The OP at some point (in one of multiple questions they started on this topic in general) stated that they strongly object to what Russia is doing in Ukraine. In your opinion what would be the risk to the OP if they let slip this verbally to the border control agents when attempting to enter Russia? IMHO once they are inside the country there is considerable risk (legal or physical - as per your St P anecdote) of saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. But at the border would the OP just be denied entry?
    – Peter M
    Aug 9 at 21:31
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    I also just realized that due to the financial restrictions, everybody in Russia that recognizes you as a foreigner will surmise that you likely have a large stash of cash hidden somewhere. Which would make you target just for that in itself.
    – Peter M
    Aug 9 at 21:37
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    @JonathanReez are there examples of this happening to tourists who aren't Russian citizens? Everyone on Russian soil is subject to Russian laws. There hadn't been any examples of Russian citizens being convicted, until there was, so obviously there isn't any guarantee that won't happen to anyone else, including tourists.
    – mustaccio
    Aug 9 at 22:19
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    Thanks, I think this is now a pretty objective answer. +1
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 9 at 23:37
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    @alamar Come on, I made seven points and mentioned protests only as a small part of one of those seven points. Although there are no mass protests currently in Russia, this may change should Putin declare martial law and mobilization, and, furthermore, people occasionally protest individually or in small groups, which always provokes a swift reaction by police. I grew up in Russia, was in Russia at the start of the full-scale military conflict, and perfectly know how things work there. Shall I update my post with numerous references to the abuse of power by Russian police?
    – Sandra
    Aug 10 at 9:09
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Should that traveler be more cautious or mindful about doing specific things that previously were of no concern?

Yes. It's a never a great idea to travel to an area that's participating in an active armed conflict. Especially if you are be considered to be friendly with enemy.

Here is what the US state department is saying https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/RussianFederation.html

Here is an excerpt

Do not travel to Russia due to the unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials, the singling out of U.S. citizens in Russia by Russian government security officials including for detention, the arbitrary enforcement of local law, limited flights into and out of Russia, the Embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19-related restrictions, and terrorism. U.S. citizens residing or travelling in Russia should depart Russia immediately. Exercise increased caution due to wrongful detentions.

If you are not a US citizen, your own country will have a similar advisory. I suggest reading it very carefully. Keep in mind that if you actually do get into trouble your own embassy may not be able to help you. Even getting money is problematic: credit cards won't work in Russia and the EU has severely restricted the amount of Euro you are allowed to bring into Russia

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 9 at 18:51
  • Do not post new comments when the commments have been moved to a chatroom. What you want to say is most likely already there. Additional comments get deleted (as we can not move them to the chatrooms anymore.
    – Willeke
    Sep 4 at 12:58
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I'll probably be downvoted or deleted at some point, but here are the facts:

  • tens of thousands of foreigners cross in and out of Russia every day, including nationals of Ukraine and other "unfriendly" countries. In fact, at the moment overwhelming majority of visitors come from "unfriendly countries"
  • Russian authorities have relaxed entry restrictions in the last 2 months, fully opening air borders on June 15 and land borders a month later. Flights to Russian Federation are gradually being restored
  • Belorussian authorities have implemented visa-free entry for nationals of neighbouring countries as a gesture of good will. There have not been reports of troubles during those visits, although one has to admit that the demand for such trips is not very high
  • actions of Russian government, including the current invasion of Ukraine, have wide support among local population. Revolt is extremely unlikely (yep, there we go, you can smash that downvote button now). Apart from areas near the border with Ukraine, safety in Russia is ordinary.

Unlike U.S., Russia does not generally demand fingerprinting at border crossings. There is nothing extraordinary about searches of electronic equipment. You should not carry any sensitive content with you, the same way you would not carry it at U.S. or other "major" border.

Simply putting - if you expect trouble, you'll get it. If you don't - you won't. Border authorities have no business arresting random people - they know exactly who to look for. It's well understood that their intelligence services have at some point infiltrated most of the foreign databases and are pretty capable of compiling accurate "naughty lists" of undesirable people.

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    Re: "Flights to Russian Federation are gradually being restored", I thought Russia itself is still refusing to allow any "unfriendly" airlines to operate in Russian airspace? Sep 5 at 6:00
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I think the western countries are saying two things, mainly.

First, if you get into trouble over there, the western state has extremely little leverage

Normally, there is a back-and-forth in international relations, and these things are handled routinely behind the scenes. But Russia has no incentive to want to work with us. So every incident can become an international incident.

And part of that is that Russia benefits greatly from finding pawns to trade. Britney Griner is an obvious and famous example. Russia has an incentive right now to create more international incidents like that. And the US is sending very clear signaling that they will let YOU rot in a Russian jail rather than give one inch on their Ukraine policy. Whether a European country will do the same may vary.

Conversely, this is also telling Russia: "don't bother hassling our people, we will not trade for them". Whether that works in your favor, who knows?

Obviously in a free country, such a policy requires a traveler advisory deterring citizens from going there.


Second, we just don't know what is going to happen.

Some of the dissatisfied are pollyanna - they are presuming tomorrow will be like yesterday. We don't know that. February 24 was not like February 22, and it became a very big deal for Americans inside Ukraine, particularly given the extremely rapid blitzkrieg to Kherson and east of Kiev in the opening days of the war.

Despite the pollyanna of some, this is a huge and very dangerous unknown. Certainly at the top of the list is the prospect of revolution inside Russia, and the violence that follows, particularly if the regime brutally suppresses it.

So the countries are simply saying "if you get into trouble over there, you are royally shafted to a much, much worse extent than in normal times. Diplomatic staff will not be coming to your aid.

That is a significant enough change from the status quo to warrant the warnings.

An average citizen may not be aware of just how much their foreign office does to protect their interests, so the sharp change may not be apparent.

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  • Did Western countries have a lot of leverage over Russia before the war? Can you add some examples of such leverage prior to 2022? After all, this question is specifically about the impacts of the war in Ukraine.
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 10 at 1:34
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    @JonathanReez Russia has been working quite hard to distance itself from the Western economic environment. As such, the sanctions the West has imposed now would have been exponentially more painful to Russia just 5 years ago. So yes, Western countries did have a lot of leverage over Russian before the war.
    – littleadv
    Aug 10 at 1:48
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Speaking about Brittney Griner, you should keep in mind, that Russians are a nation were revenge is more the norm than in some other countries. For example, in 2005, a worker of the Polish embassy in Moscow was brutally assaulted, because a few days later earlier a group of children of Russian diplomats was beaten up by hooligans in Warsaw (which was, according to Polish police, a purely criminal case, without racist background).

Whenever Russians feel they are unfairly treated, they want revenge. The Russian sportsman were unfairly refused to enter the competition, fine, let some western sportsman pay the price. Without the right to fair process (like in soviet times, the main role of the police is to prosecute political opposition) it's hard to say if she really got drugs or not. Russia has experts that will make you sign anything they want.

When contacting officials, like the police, there are 3 main concerns. First is vindictive justice. Something bad happened to Russians in your country, something bad is going to happen to some of your kind in Russia. It might be you.

Second is the lack of fair process. You might be sentenced for something random just because they need to convict someone and are unable to find the perpetrator, or the guilty person is a part of the system (your risk is here not very bigger than by the locals, increased by the fact of not having contacts in the system, and not simply being foreigner).

Third is brand new: a new laws forbidding 'false propaganda' about the Russian army, and official propaganda warning about western agents. Say anything political to the wrong person, you're in real troubles.

Safety is relative. But dictatorships without the independent justice system are generally a high risk. And political factors are not in your favor. You should generally follow your government advice not to visit Russia unless absolutely necessary.

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  • Have any Western citizens been arrested/prosecuted for violating the 'false propaganda' law so far? (not just deported)
    – JonathanReez
    Aug 9 at 19:31
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    @JonathanReez you keep asking that question, but what's the point? What if noone was arrested, until you become the first one, how does it help you knowing that no-one was before? It's a new law enacted just a few months ago, do you really want to be that guinea pig?
    – littleadv
    Aug 9 at 23:14
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Americans getting arrested for minor drug law violations isn't a novel development. Gaylen Grandstaff was arrested for alleged smuggling in 2017:

Gaylen Grandstaff, 55, who with his Russian wife had taught English in Russia since 2011, was arrested in June 2017 in Moscow on suspicion of smuggling after he ordered detergent containing the banned substance. He faced up to 20 years in prison before the court unexpectedly released him in June 2019.

And Russia isn’t alone in being unreasonably strict about drugs by Western standards. So I would say your odds of getting arrested in Russia haven't changed at all since the start of the war, as long as you aren't planning to bring illicit substances across the border. The Department of State does try to say otherwise, however they've been warning Americans against travel to Crimea since 2014 and yet we haven't heard of Western travelers being harassed in this region. At least 718 Americans and 2643 German citizens visited Crimea in 2019 according to government statistics, so at least some Westerners are clearly ignoring the warnings.

So I would disregard the newly issued travel warnings and go, as long as you're able to obtain a visa. You'd face some difficulties due to the sanctions by Visa/Mastercard so you'll have to bring cash instead of credit cards. Otherwise you're unlikely to experience any problems during the trip beyond the general risks of visiting Russia that have been present even before the occupation of Crimea. Personally I'm a big opponent of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, however I don't see the problem with visiting it as a tourist. The vast majority of Russia's currency reserves are obtained by selling oil and gas, so whether or not foreign tourists decide to cross the border wouldn't make a difference in the state budget.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Willeke
    Aug 9 at 8:05

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