Knife or gunpoint robbery is rare enough to be neglected. Cars no longer get broken into. The police presence is overwhelming – in August 2012 our little camp on a deserte White Sea beach 40 miles from nearest asphalt road got invaded by a bunch of OMON guys at 3am! – and there are cameras everywhere. While living in a police state is no fun one positive side effect is that classic street crime is way down in this new back to the past era. Fear of street crime is largely exaggerated and is based on outdated reports from the 90s.
In all these years I had one client robbed. He was drunk, at night, on his way home from one of those bars frequented by foreign travellers. The other poor chap was discovered in the state of deep stupor, surrounded by dozens of empty bottles, with his computer gone. One woman had a bag grabbed from her but that was in 1994 or 1995. A few fell victims to scam. But I don’t recall a recent attack that came from nowhere on a sober and attentive traveller. Relax.
I regularly hear reports of that. Don’t fall into their hands when you are helpless. SO DON’T MAKE YOURSELF HELPLESS. IF YOU ARE CAUGHT DRUNK YOU WILL BE ROBBED BY THE POLICE. If you are anywhere near a protest demonstration, you suffer real risk of getting whacked with a stick over the head. Bribe extortion in touristy areas is still common but you really need to make yourself an easy victim. If you politely but firmly insist on them doing the right paperwork, write down their badge number and, most importantly, make an attempt to get in touch with your embassy, chances are you’ll be left alone. So I’d say police crime is not an issue for an average traveller who has some experience visiting exotic places and limits himself to doing standard touristy things. Stay sober! Police love drunk victims.
I recall just one client who had a “fine” successfully extorted from him. But he was an oldie of military background, and these are likely to become victims of police crime. I wonder why. Perhaps because someone from the US military assumes that anyone wearing a uniform is an authority, and authorities are to be taken seriously.
To my shame I admit I was robbed by the police in Staritsa but I was in the condition of which I won’t tell you for the fear of further damaging my reputation. Another close two close calls were during these demonstrations in support of the right to free assembly but there I was asking for it.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A LOCAL MOBILE PHONE ON YOU, AND EMERGENCY NUMBERS HANDY. CALL YOUR EMBASSY ON ARRIVAL AND CHECK WHICH NUMBER NEEDS TO BE CALLED IF YOU ARE IN TROUBLE.
Scam and hoax
Yes, these are very common. Russian brides scam is something I encounter regularly. CHECK WITH ME IF YOU PLAN TO SEND ANY MONEY TO RUSSIA, ESPECIALLY TO SOMEONE WHOM YOU HAVEN’T MET BEFORE. SAME ABOUT MAKING APARTMENT DEPOSITS. OR PAYING IN ADVANCE FOR ANY KIND OF WORK. SOMETIMES DOING THESE THINGS IS UNAVOIDABLE BUT BE ON YOUR ALERT.
The real dangers
Suppose these are miscellaneous health risks, many of which are a direct consequence of disorderly environment. Pulled tendons, broken bones, poisonings – these are indeed common. I recall a Japanese girl who received a nasty electric shock from a trolley bus. One of my clients nearly dies of pneumonia but only because by the time he agreed to go to the hospital he was in such a bad shape that the hospital didn’t want to accept him out of fear that they will end up with a dead foreigner on their hands, which would be a scandal. The closest I’ve been to leaving this mortal coil was when a horse flipped over and fell on me but again this was gross negligence on my part. I’ve fallen into an open manhole once. The most painful accident I remember is when an attempt to find a break in a mess of wires led to a short, with a small explosion that took skin off several fingers. Oh, was bitten by a dog once. But as I review all these situations I clearly see that the real reason was that I was acting stupid. All episodes I was involved in could have easily been avoided if I was to keep my brains on. That’s the key to staying safe in Russia. Or, if you like, the true danger is the environment that wears you out till you are no longer attentive and alert, and then it happens. In other sections of The Ugly Side (follow the menu) I attempted to summarize what makes Moscow and Russia as a whole so tiring.