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Is it currently safe to travel with a car through Dagestan?

The car has a Russian license plate and both of us travellers (one guy, one girl) look European (with dark hair in case this matters). The proposed route goes from Astrakhan along the coast of the Caspian sea to Lagan, Artezian, Kizlyar, Makhachkala, Derbent and on to Baku with a possible overnight stay in a hotel/guesthouse in Makhachkala.

Considering how close Chechnya and South Ossetia are, how safe would such a trip be?
What exactly are the political, ethnic or cultural problems and such possible risks, and how should one behave to reduce the risk of being a victim of crime or harassment?

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    FYI, some people had voted to close this question, presumably based on the title alone because you do explain what sorts of safety you're concerned about in the final paragraph. I've edited the title so it's super-obvious what sort of risk management you're asking about. – user568458 Apr 7 '17 at 17:31
  • @user568458 Thanks, although there seem to be hundreds of questions on this site which only consist of "Is it safe to travel in [insert region of choice]" – ahemmetter Apr 7 '17 at 18:25
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    From Smartraveller: "We strongly advise you not to travel to the North Caucasus, in particular the regions of Chechnya, Dagestan, [...]" – mts Apr 7 '17 at 18:27
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    @andynitrox I agree, it's a weird and horribly inconsistent policy. These are among the most interesting and useful questions on the site in my opinion. Ping me as well as mts if this does get closed and we'll try to reopen it as quickly as possible – user568458 Apr 7 '17 at 21:34
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    Another potential problem is that, assuming you're foreigners, you're most probably not going to get any consular services while you're there, so you can't rely on your country's consulate if your passports or money are lost or stolen or anything else that goes wrong where you'd need consular assistance. – Zach Lipton Apr 8 '17 at 4:16
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This is challenging task, especially if you do not know the Russian. Moreover, it'd be considered as dangerous even for native Russians. North Caucasus is a place for unclaimed civil war for years, and each week something happen.

Here you may find unofficial news portal about current situation. In some cases the fact that you are tourist can help you, but in general it's not a place you should take a drive. If you can, find a local guide so some situation could be resolved, but if I were you, I wouldn't go there.

Even if you're European looking people, it will be easy to understand that you're not locals, as you probably do not have a beard, and your trip partner doesn't wear appropriate (from local point of view) women clothes. It's a high risk to became a victim of robbery, kidnapping or get a health damage.

  • Great answer. My understanding is that Dagestan used to be considered one of the relatively safer North Caucasus republics, but since the crackdown in Chechnya, a lot of the trouble from there has spilled over and it's now one of the more dangerous. Does that sound right to you? – user568458 Apr 7 '17 at 21:37
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    Yes, that's right. But I've been only once in Grozny (Chechnya' capital), and never have been in Dagestan, so it's only my opinion, as from official point of view it's a small bandit groups, and that's it – VMAtm Apr 7 '17 at 23:10
  • I second the idea of a local guide. Better yet, have a local driver with his own car. – Alexander Apr 7 '17 at 23:35
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Not safe at all. I don't know what's going on right now, but I remember seeing on news how local police cars were bombed, how someone drove a car to a police checkpoint and it exploded and how some random/police cars were shot near Mahachkala. Its usually local bands/rebels/boeviks from Dagestan/Chechnya and they usually target Russian police. However it doesn't mean you can be 100% safe. There are many cases of abduction/ransom even nowadays. Just be careful.

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    Just be careful - isn't enough at all – VMAtm Apr 9 '17 at 15:45
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I think you know that it is not safe because you had to ask this question...

Your government (Germany I believe?) can provide you the explicit answer. Always check your national travel advisories!!

On their website, in regards to Northern Caucaus, the German government specifically states:

Traveling to the North Caucasus Federal District and adjacent regions is an indication of the increased security risk. In particular, not necessarily required trips to Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan is strongly discouraged. In the above mentioned regions there is a higher security risk due to attacks, armed conflicts and kidnapping cases than in other Russian parts of the country. Persons who travel to the above-mentioned regions despite the high risks can expect only limited assistance from the German Embassy in Moscow in the event of an emergency. Short-term restrictions on the right of travel for foreigners can not be ruled out.

Border traffic with Georgia and Azerbaijan The Dariali / Hoher Lars border crossing on the A 301 ("Georgian Military Route"), which connects North Ossetia (Russia) with Georgia, as well as the border crossing between Samur on the border between Dagestan (Russia) and Azerbaijan are now back for the international Travel opened. However, capacity-related difficulties in crossing the border can not be ruled out. An entry via the Georgian-Russian border into the Georgian conflict areas Abkhazia and South Ossetia will continue to be punished by the Georgian authorities as an illegal border crossing.

Regarding the security situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the travel and security information of the Foreign Office for Georgia has to be observed.

So, basically what they're trying to tell you is, do not go there unless it is essential. It is up to you to decide what is essential and if its worth the risk. Keep in mind that the German consulate in Moscow is very, very far away when you're sitting in a Dagestan jail or held for ransom. Just give it thought.

In regards to Georgia (and South Ossetia you asked about), as it is referenced by the Russian section above, the German government also specifically states:

Entry by land is possible via Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia. Foreigners wishing to enter Russia from Georgia must use the Dariali / Hoher Lars border crossing on the M3, the so-called "Georgian Army Route". Capacity-related difficulties at border crossing and resulting waiting times can not be excluded. Above all, however, the security situation in the North Caucasus should be taken into account: Travel to Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria is strongly discouraged (see Travel and Security Policy Russian Federation ).

South Ossetia and Abkhazia Travel to Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the immediate vicinity of the conflict region are strongly discouraged. Consular protection can not currently be granted to German nationals for lack of access. Even the feasibility of a rescue flight to these areas is not ensured in an emergency.

Entry into Georgia - defected areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Russia continues to be prosecuted by Georgian authorities as illegal border crossing, South Ossetia is closed to international travel, the administrative border with South Ossetia is restricted area, since the 2008 war there is an increased danger from mines and unexploded ammunition.

Due to the unpredictable security situation near the administrative borders, it is strongly recommended that the area be avoided or that Georgian authorities obtain prior approval. Abkhazia and South Ossetia are not under the control of the Georgian government. Russian troops are stationed in the areas and at their administrative borders. The situation in the conflict regions is currently stable, but it can change at any time. Therefore, inform yourself about the local media.

The Georgian "Occupied Territories Act" prohibits travel, economic activity, land acquisition or real estate, as well as other activities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with few exceptions. Infringements can result in fines or imprisonment of up to five years.

Also on later trips to Georgia threatens the refusal of entry, it should emerge from the pass that previously an illegal entry into Abkhazia or South Ossetia / Georgia has taken place. Therefore, it is strongly advised to be informed about the relevant regulations in a timely manner, and to obtain the necessary approval from the Georgian government. The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of State for Reconciliation and Civil Equality provide information and permission to enter the country .

I recently visited Krasnodar, Sochi, Maykop, Stavropol and Tbilisi/Stepstanminda Georgia which is not too terribly far from these areas you are asking about. My Russian fiancee works for one of the large oil companies in Russia and they send her to Krasnodar region for work often, and its completely not safe at all for her. They must be off the streets at sunset and she must cover her blonde hair, to avoid trouble. I traveled through Georgia this past January, in the snow, and many trucks were lined up, unable to move. Keep this in mind, that the weather can greatly impact any travel to the Northern Caucasus mountains.

I also know my country (USA) specifically states that any travel is forbidden to Dagestan. USA state department outlines it here:

North Caucasus (including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus)

Civil unrest and terrorist attacks continue throughout the North Caucasus region including in Chechnya, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya. Local gangs have kidnapped U.S. citizens and other foreigners for ransom. There have been credible reports of arrest, torture, and extrajudicial killing of gay men in Chechnya allegedly conducted by Chechen regional authorities.

Do not attempt to climb Mount Elbrus, as travelers must pass close to volatile and insecure areas of the North Caucasus region.

The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens traveling in the North Caucasus region, including Mount Elbrus, as U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to the region.

Visit our website for Travel to High-Risk Areas.

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