Local police & Documents, Moscow
Before we went to Moscow, I read all sorts of warnings about dodgy police in Red Square…. How they would ask to see your passports and then not give them back unless you paid them and things like that.
So, imagine my concern when one evening, whilst we were taking some photos of the Kremlin in Red Square, Alex was approached by 2 police officers or possibly Kremlin guards.
They were unhappy that he was taking photos using a tripod (????) and wanted to see his passport. Although I actually had our passports hidden in my money-belt, Alex told them that his passport was back at our hotel, pointing to our hotel, which was just across from Red Square.
They were not happy, but I showed them the card that the hotel had given us showing our name and that we were staying there…and thankfully they were happy with that. They just yelled a bit, saying that we could not use a tripod and then walked off.
but the only encounter we had with a policeman was when one came up to us at the concert in Red Square to celebrate the WW2 60th anniversary and asked us if we would like to go and sit down the front instead of standing!
I'm not saying people don't get hassled, and it really is necessary to have your passport or a copy of it on you at all times as well as your entry documents, and to be aware of how to deal with the situation if you do get stopped, but don't think it happens to everyone. I have no doubt that young travellers probably get stopped more than older visitors but times are changing in Russia and advice that is out of date could make you worry unecessarily.
As soon as you arrive at the international aeroport in Moscow you are shown a great example of russian burocracy: we needed 2 hours to pass the passport control(another example will be the Lenin mausoleum).Actually I was surprised but, I thought it can happen, may be that more than one flight arrived at the same time.The best was when I got back to the airport to leave Moscow, so there was no visa to control and so on and, anyway a queu of 1 hour was there to wait for me, 1 hour of queu just to check who was leaving the country as there was no lagguage nor metal detector control at that point.So, in Moscow you really need to be at the airport 3 hours in advance if you want to be sure to take your flight, at least if you are leaving from airport Sheremetevo 2.
I'm sure countless people have already stressed this fact, but always make sure you carry your passport with you wherever you go in Moscow as the local militia (police) are prone to doing spot checks especially in Metro stations! Don't be offended as this also applies to Russian citizens.
Something else to look out for is where & who you take photo's of! Having lived in a regime that was largely closed to the prying eyes of the world, Russian's can be camera shy & in the case of the militia - especially in the Kremlin near the Presidential Palace - threatening. They may confiscate your film if you take a picture of something you're not supposed to. If in doubt - ask someone if it's possible to take a picture - "eta vazmozhna chto'i fotografirovat pazhal'sta" or even "mozhna s'fotografirovat pazhal'sta". Basically translates as "may I take a photo please".
We were walking around when one of our group dropped a cigarette on the ground. One has to remember that Russians smoke all the time, everywhere, and cigarette butts are pretty common. We must have been observed by the local police because some of us were speaking English. One of our Russian friends was accosted by some cop who looked to be about 20 years old. He threatened to drag her to the police department unless she paid him $30 US. From what I heard this is pretty common and illegal even there. For an adventure I'd let them take me and then contact the American consulate, or if that's not your cup of tea, be careful not to break any real or imaginary laws.
People who privately sell and swap airline tickets -- like the person who helped two suspected suicide bombers board the planes that crashed almost simultaneously last month -- are still out in full force in airports, and a bribe of as little as 500 rubles ($17) can get anybody on board a domestic flight, according to aviation officials and media reports.
According to the papers here is what was said. "Everybody knows them and everybody loves them, including the police, because they bring in extra profits," an airline official said. "These are mostly former airport employees -- baggage handlers or porters. They know everyone in the airport."
Summing up preliminary results to the crash investigation, Prosecutor General said Wednesday that the airport employee charged the women a total of 5,000 rubles for his services.
He stepped in after the women were detained by airport police upon their arrival from Dagestan. A police officer released them without a check.
The women were apparently unnerved by the police stop and wanted to get on outbound flights as quickly as possible.
The woman calling had missed a Sibir flight to Volgograd and was hysterical, according to Kommersant. The same employee swapped her ticket for one on the Volga-Aviaexpress Tu-134.
The other woman was supposed to fly to Sochi on a larger Sibir Il-86 the next morning. But two minutes before check-in closed for Sibir Flight 1047 to Sochi, the airline employee gave her ticket and 1,000 rubles ($34) to a Sibir official overseeing check-in and boarding.
And, the rest is history as we say. After numerous errors and mistakes, the two black widows boarded their respective flights, blew themselves and everyone on board up, and there were no survivors.
...the police lie when they report crimes, and so no one knows what the true crime statistics are.
Police fairytales differ sharply from the reality on the streets. For instance, this week city police reported that the number of street robberies fell by 35 percent compared to 2002.
There has been anecdotal evidence of the police ignoring rape cases because they "do not want to make the city look bad." Foreign businessmen, diplomats and tourists, complaining that police on patrol steal their money while checking their documents. They have learned to cross the road when they see a police patrol coming.
They are not happy that in some city districts "the number of arrests made in drug cases has dropped by almost 25 percent." Knowing how careful the police are about their statistics, and being familiar with stories of how law enforcers fabricate crimes by planting drugs in people's pockets during a routine check of documents. .
From reading the Moscow Times and doing a quick tally and, as you can read yourself, two things become quite evident. One there is a lot of crime in Moscow. And second, only a small fraction of crimes are every solved. So don't let it spoil your visit, but be careful.
Carry your passport with you at all times the Russian's carry a passport (it has all their lifes info. on it) for traveling around inside Russian and they have a second one for traveling outside their country. We kept a copy of all documents (birth certi. visas service we used, drivers lic. ss card) and passport pages with us also we used a money belt and put everything in a zip lock bag to keep it from getting sweaty! They also like things with notary stamps on it so have your copies notary stamped they love stamping papers themselves! Just about any bank in America has a notary and explain to them why you need all your copies stamped they're just notorizing your signature, sign your copies at the bottom of the paper and have them stamp your signature! Also we forgot to take our airline's international phone number with us we had to go up online and find the airlines web page and then get the Russia phone number, we was coming home a few days earlier than our return flight was. Thank God we could get up online if not we would have not been able to get their phone so easy. Also we took U.S.embassy for Russia and everyones phone, address and email addresses that was back in the states all on one piece of paper, it was very handy and we made copies and carried them with us at all times and put an extra copy in our luggage. Also leave in an email to a few different people all your info. about your trip and where you will be leaving copies of your passport papers and visa info. with in the U.S. Traveling nowadays is not the safest. The train we traveled on was blown off it's tracks three days before we road on it. You need to have someone in the U.S. know ALL your info. and that can stay calm and think clear in an emergancy for you! They may be your life line in getting you found if you get lost or? or get you out of the country in an emergancy!
If you are just an average tourist on a short stay in Russia, this probably will not affect you in one way or the other.
However, if you are a businessman and looking to establish business relations in Russia this may have an affect on your decisions.
According the the INDEM Foundation business bribes demanded and paid increased from an average of $10.200 in 2001 to $135.000 in 2005. A seven fold increase.
It is estimated that market in business corruption has grown from $33.5 billion in 2001 to $316 billion in 2005. Naturally, due to its nature, such claims are hard to verify, but this was based on their survey of 1000 business people and 3000 ordinary people.
The good news is that the number of bribes was down 20% over this period.
So, once again, if you are an ordinary tourist, this may mean very little to you unless you are stopped by an overzealous traffic policeman, but if you are in Russia for a longer stay it might.
Further information can be found at Transparency International's webpage or at INDEM's own webpage.
Apparently it is law in Russia to carry your identification (passport, visa and hotel registration) with you at all times. We did not get stopped in our 4 days in Moscow but we did see uniformed men checking other people's documents.
It seemed to me that the people we saw being checked were all younger men, casually dressed, with darker complexions.
This tip conserns individual tourists walking in the streets and for the "off-the-beaten-path" sites only.
Last years it is became very uneasy to take photos of wonderful Moscow buildings and palaces, especially old ones in central part of the city in small lanes and parks. Almost all of them are offices of banks or other comercial companies. Buildings are equipped with cameras and guarded by very serious guys. If they see you taking photo of the street (even not windows of the building) you will definetely have a stupid conversation of why do you taking this photos. ;(((
Formally there are very many contradictory rules and laws, so in many cases you have no chances to prove your right. ;( Foreigners have some advantage - just show that you are a tourist and you do not speak Russian.
Be aware, they even can ask you to spoil a film ;(
All foreigners must have their visas registered within three days of arrival. If you don't look like 'guy whitie,' or are carrying big bags and are wearing a t-shirt that says 'kiss me, I'm a tourist,' there's a good chance that the cops will stop you and ask for documents. They love to do this around Red Square and at the train stations, but they also do it on the subways. Choice targets for random document checks are people from the Caucasus - Georgians, Armenians, Ossetians, and of course, Dagestanis and Chechens. Because the city is a magnet for whores from poor parts of Russia, attractive women walking alone late at night are almost always hit up for a bribe - people in Russia carry an internal passport (sometimes in addition to Russia's 'foreign' passport) that has to be stamped and in the case of these girls usually isn't. People from the Caucasus people look like Jews or Italians, so if you're Jewish or Italian looking, the cops will target you. Have your hotel stamp your visa or you'll get stuck paying a bribe - try to shoot for 100 or 200 rubles (3-7 dollars.) If you're staying with friends, get your visa stamped at the Hotel Asia - they'll do it for 10 dollars for up to 3 months and don't require you to stay there. Again, the whole system is a scam so pretend you know the drill.
Russian law requires that you carry your passport with you at all times. And if you required a visa to visit Russia, then that visa must be registered within 3 business days after arriving in Russia. For me, as a busy business traveler, I had to pay a courier to pick my passport and visa up and then drop it back to me as well as the processing fee. In October 2006 the total cost was $75 American dollars. And that happens each and every time you enter Russia.
If you stay at a hotel, they will take your passport and get your visa registered. Since I do not stay at hotels in Moscow, I do not know if there is a fee for that service. I stay at serviced apartments so I have to handle this visa processing on my own.
When you travel to Russia you should make a photocopy of your passport and your Russian visa. You should keep a photocopy in your wallet at all times. And you should have a photocopy with your luggage. Then at least you can document that you are traveling legally in the country.
However, it does not mean that you won’t have to pay off any policeman (yes corruption is alive and well in Russia) that catches you without a passport/visa even if you have this photocopy documentation. It just means they will not hassle you as badly. And when dealing with the Russian authorities, keep rein on your temper, be civil, and pay the 1,000 rubles or whatever the going rate is if you are caught without a passport and visa in your possession or with an unregistered visa. Do not argue or yell at these authorities. Spending time in a Russian cell just cannot be any fun whatsoever.
You will find Russian authorities checking for valid papers at places like Revolution Square, Red Square, Tyverskaya Street, and Pushkin Square. Any famous place normally has authorities checking papers. You can see teams of these authorities working the crowd on any nice day at Revolution Square if you just sit back and look for them.
Foreigners applying for work permits must now undergo tests for HIV/AIDS, leprosy, syphilis, chlamydia and all those other nasty things your Drill Sergeant and your mother warned you about.
Tests can only be carried out at state clinics, which means you cannot be tested at home by your own doctor before you go to Russia, and as far as the new rules are concerned tests cannot be done at any of the private clinics around Moscow like the European Medical Center or the American Medical Center where many foreigners and ex-pats have coverage.
The new rules are based on a decree signed in April, 2003, but it is just now being enforced.
Foreigners applying for residency permits will have to undergo these tests in area where they are registered. We are told that the tests may take up to three days nevermind that the clinic near you may not be up to the standard that you may be used to unless you come from somewhere else in the developing world.
I would suggest you get more information from your visa provider or by contacting the American Chamber of Commerce or the Association of European Businesses. The Federal Migration Service is responsible for introducing and enforcing the new regulations.
In any case, good luck and play safe.
Shamefully, you are supposed to fear Moscow police more than you are to fear its ordinary criminals. Try not to look like a tourist near the police, especially if you're in an area off the beaten path. Avoid asking information to them. I once made the mistake to ask an officer where could I get a phone card to call abroad, and then he and a few of his fellow officers promptly went to buy one even after I insisted for them not to. As I was expecting, they got me a card that I could use only to call someone within Moscow, and I was ripped off a few hundred roubles for it.