Secure Living in Russia?
By Daniel Klein
One of the biggest fears that expats have when relocating to Russia is related to personal security, and the poor reputation that Russia has regarding the safety of private citizens. We all have our own opinions about security in Russia and many of us have our personal security stories. In the 1990’s when murders were commonplace in Moscow, many expat executives were required as a matter of course to have two shifts of drivers. Since drivers weren’t allowed to work more than 40-50 hours a week, it was necessary to provide drivers for a second shift. When executives were dropped off at home late at night, after an evening in the office or a night out wining and dining, or picked up in the morning, the driver would, like a bodyguard, meet the driver at the executive’s apartment door, not downstairs in the car park in front of the entrance. Car thefts were so common in the early 1990’s that drivers were required to sleep in their employer’s Western car as a crude type of theft deterrence. Fortunately, those days are long gone, and wealthy expats are no more a crime target than their Russian counterparts. While Russia definitely looks and feels a lot safer than it did a decade ago, security can still be a concern. It is hard to draw any conclusions about statistics since many if not most crimes still go unreported.
Security is not only a concern due to the particularities of Russian crime rates, but also due to language barriers and unfamiliarity with local Russian criminal laws.
Many expats expect their embassies to assist them on a 24/7 basis. While certain embassies do provide some assistance, they simply do not have the resources to help everyone with an issue about law enforcement or if one falls victim to a crime.
Depending on your nationality, some embassies do have a 24-hour hotline number which can assist its citizens in event of legal problems. The 24-hour hotline for US and British citizens are below:
US Embassy 24-hour hotline
British Embassy 24-hour hotline
Other consulate and embassy numbers can be found on the Passport Magazine web site: http://www.passportmagazine.ru/334/.
In a conversation with someone from the British citizen services we were informed that the British Embassy in most situations will visit a detention center if one of its citizens is arrested. This visit would be made within 24 hours of the arrest. The US Embassy apparently provides similar services. The more grave the infraction, the greater attention the Embassy will pay to a given situation. If it is a question of irregularities with your visa, or if you have fallen victim to a criminal fraud scam, your embassy may not give this the highest priority. In accordance with treaties signed with many countries: if Russian law enforcement authorities detain citizens of certain countries, Russian law enforcement offices are required to inform the relevant embassy that a citizen of their country has been detained. This notification is supposed to occur within 24 hours of detention.
While the services offered by many embassies is clearly better than no service at all, there is a demand for having access to emergency services in case of need.
The security void has been filled in part by security services companies that can provide assistance when an expatriate has a problem. MIG Security Services is one example of a company that provides different packages of services to help fill in that security gap. MIG was created in the early 1990’s and today has over 5000 employees; some 800 in Moscow alone. Their geographical coverage is quite broad, having offices in most large Russian cities and the CIS as well. For as little as 1600 rubles per month, a MIG subscriber can have access to a 24-hour support help-line that can assist subscribers needing assistance. If arrested, or if you fall victim to a criminal scam, or you are in a bar where a fight is about to start, subscribers can phone the 24-hour hot line and MIG will dispatch their security forces or speak with police officers. A simple phone call is frequently enough to dissipate even the most heated encounters. MIG can also provide support in case of an apartment breakin. If an apartment has been broken into, it is not necessarily a good idea to enter the apartment since the burglars may have not yet departed. Getting the police and/ or a private security firm to the scene as soon as possible is clearly a recommended course of action. The private security firm can ensure that the police treat your valuables properly and act within the relevant guidelines of taking evidence. They can also advise the burglary victim on what type of police report is required and all the relevant procedures. This may also be necessary in order to make proper insurance claims, if applicable.
There are a lot rules that expats simply do not know. For example, not everyone is aware that if the police knock on your door that you are not obligated by law to open it; unless they have a warrant. Most people do not know that the police under most circumstances are not allowed to search your pockets. MIG can provide 24-hour access to a lawyer who can assist in the unfortunate situation of an arrest. Most visitors to Russia have had the sometimes unpleasant experience, while walking down the street, of being asked to produce their passport with all the right registration stamps and visas. Fortunately, few of us have been taken down to the local precinct for failure to produce the correct documentation. What rights do the police have and what rights does the arrested expat have in that circumstance? Have all the necessary procedures been duly followed by the arresting officers? Never mind the language barrier; trying to gauge whether the arresting officers have properly respected your rights in terms of body searches, or in conducting certain procedures at the local detention centre is anyone’s best guess. Even if there is a clear violation, what steps does one take in order to communicate that violation?
MIG can also provide a broad range of other services such as temporary bodyguard services for VIP visitors, assistance with transportation of cash, and other tailormade services required by its clients. More information can be found on their web site: www.mig.ru. Although Russia has less than an ideal reputation in terms of security, rest assured that there are ways to improve your day-to-day safety!