In the shadows of recent geopolitical events and cyber security breaches involving Russia, it’s no surprise that various authorities are beginning to raise concerns for Westerners heading off to the World Cup soccer tournament this month.
In answer to questions from Travel Market Report, security and medical evacuation provider iJet International said, “Ongoing diplomatic tensions between Russia and Western countries could encourage individual police officers to be particularly strict with certain nationalities when implementing local laws.”
iJet said, “We believe this is unlikely to significantly impact visitors acting legitimately,” if they abide by the terms of their visa, and do not contravene the law, but the company still made note of some areas of potential risk.
These include: “Increased Russian security presence and instances of brutality/corruption, anti-LGBT and anti-minority policies and discrimination, the likelihood that Russian officials monitoring visitors’ social media for anti-Putin posts, cultural clashes between majority pro-Putin Russians and anti-Putin visitors, increased likelihood of human rights and opposition demonstrations and crackdowns on hooliganism.”
“Public criticism of the regime or the Russian Constitution – for example on social media – can lead the authorities to refuse entry to the country. In addition, while LGBT activity is not proscribed, foreigners can contravene related laws, such as that banning the dissemination of LGBT ‘propaganda,’” iJet said.
Tensions have been rising
A former Russian spy and his daughter fell ill when they were poisoned earlier this year in their home in the town of Salisbury, 90 miles southwest of London. The British government believes the poison used in the attack can be directly linked to Russian spy agencies. Meanwhile, the U.S. has repeatedly accused Russia of engaging in cyber breaches to impact U.S. elections.
Since January, the U.S. State Department has had Russia at Level 3 of its Travel Advisory warnings: “Reconsider Travel.” Under the World Cup section of its travel advisory website, the agency warns Americans about “increased police presence and enhanced security measures in and around stadiums,” but offered no other specific advice.
“If we receive information of a threat to private U.S. citizens, the U.S. Embassy will send a Security Alert to the public, which you can receive if you enroll your trip details in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program,” the State Department says in a reminder.
U.S. consulates are typically informed of the detention of U.S. nationals in Russia and are permitted to provide support services. They cannot, however, provide legal advice or representation at trial, and are unable to pay legal fees or fines with government funds.
In Russia, a foreign national can be detained for up to 48 hours without charge if they are suspected of committing an offense, said iJet. Once charged, foreigners will be barred from leaving the country until the case is resolved. Traffic violations and other minor offenses are often punished by on-the-spot fines; more serious offenses can be dealt with through deportation or imprisonment.
The World Cup will be played in various Russian cities from June 14-July 15.
British authorities provide detailed advice
The British government posted more detailed warnings on its website, recently adding advice about cyber security.
The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre advised nationals heading to the World Cup to make sure antivirus software is turned on, and to “turn on the ability to wipe your phone should it become lost.” It advised residents also to ensure that email and social media providers offer two-factor authentication protection, to make it harder for others to access accounts.
The Security Centre also advised that visitors “never download apps from unofficial providers, either in the U.K. or abroad. Unofficial app stores cannot be trusted; there is no way of knowing if the app is genuine.” It also reminded fans that “public and hotel WiFi connections may not be safe; carefully consider what information you might be sharing when using these connections.
Avoid internet banking abroad and implement the guidance above for all other accounts,” the Centre said. And be cautious with any technology-related gifts such as USB sticks. “It is safer to not plug them in and to discretely dispose of them.”
The U.K. government is working with Russian authorities “to help ensure the safety of British nationals, which includes visits by the U.K. police to Russia and visits by the Russian police to the U.K.” British police will be in Russia for the tournament and the British Embassy will have a presence on match days in all of the cities where England plays a game.
The British government encouraged British nationals “to be good guests wherever they travel in the world, and to do their research before they travel to understand the issues and risks, so they can have a safe and enjoyable trip.”