Risks in Russia: Pitfalls and Lessons for Travelers and Those Who Manage Them

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Russia is an ever-tempting market for new and expanding business ventures. The largest country in the world, Russia is gaining importance in foreign investment, especially mining, agriculture and manufacturing. Travel to Russia is also increasing and it is the destination of about one-third of all business and convention travel to Eastern Europe. The Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study that polled 628 global organizations ranked Russia in the top 20 perceived most dangerous locations for global employees.

I presented on a webinar regarding the key travel security risks and ways to manage them in Russia. Here are some of the questions from attendees who often oversee this responsibility within their company, organization or university with my answers:

How does corruption and bribery play into business in Russia?

This should not affect individual business travelers on short trips but it is worth being aware that corruption is endemic in all levels of the bureaucracy and state-owned companies. Therefore, foreign businesses planning on doing business in Russia are likely to face issues at some point while setting up their operations. In 2011, Russia ranked 143rd out of 183 countries according to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. It is extremely important to understand who you are doing business with in Russia. Doing your due diligence is key to successful business in Russia.

I see on the news that there are ongoing demonstrations in Russia. What is behind these?

The demonstrations began during the parliamentary elections in 2011, which were widely perceived to have been fraudulent and triggered an unprecedented number of people frustrated with endemic corruption and a lack of political freedoms to express their frustration in the form of public protest. The largest such protests took place in Moscow. However, the opposition is fragmented and lacks a clear political program, so in the short term they do not appear to pose a direct threat to President Putin’s regime. The main concern for now is the potential for localized violence should demonstrations go ahead without official authorization.

What is the availability of cell phone service and Wi-Fi in public areas?

Cell phone coverage is excellent in Moscow and St. Petersburg, even on the subway. Wi-Fi service is not typically free in public areas. Be aware that laptops, phones and e-mail may be hacked into in Russia, so leave sensitive information at home or use robust encryption tools.

How are the Russian police and security capabilities?

When large attacks or other incidents involving high profile people occur, the police are quick to assist and get things back to normal. However, in terms of day-to-day incidents, the police are generally found to be corrupt. Due to their low salaries, they often feel the need to supplement that pay with bribes. Also be aware that police personnel are unlikely to speak even basic English.

Are there any laws in Russia that foreigners that may not be familiar with that may cause a problem?

In terms of business, satellite phones may not be allowed, and it is best to check before bringing one into the country. Otherwise, it is recommended that you act as you would while visiting any other country. Do not carry illegal materials and do not engage in illegal or questionable activities.

Is traveling by train a safe and efficient way to travel in Russia?

Train travel between cities is both efficient and fairly comfortable. It is important to keep your compartment locked, however, to avoid theft. Due to the size of the country, travel between cities can be long.

You can read the full executive briefing here, as well as listen to the recording. Click here for the webinars on Brazil, India and China. Download a copy of the Duty of Care and Travel Risk Management Global Benchmarking Study to see how your organization stacks up when it comes to Duty of Care.

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