There are a lot of stereotypes about Russia—many of them are true. However, we can’t easily generalize the safety of the world’s largest country. Comparing the streets of St. Petersburg to Chechnya simply doesn’t work. They’re too different and warrant an independent analysis.
But for the sake of convenience we will look at some overall statistics about Russia and the general mood in the country.
Low-level crimes in Russia are slightly more common than in western countries. Things like assaults and theft, while not ubiquitous, do happen in Russia.
If you are living in the center of Russian cities, particularly near a touristy area, then you are unlikely to experience any of this. Most of the crime occurs on the perimeter of Russian cities—the wealthy live in nice apartments downtown and in dachas in the countryside.
Police presence in Russia is quite large, which certainly helps to deter crime, particularly in the touristy areas of St. Petersburg and Moscow.
Looking at violent crime rates in Russia, one will notice they are significantly higher than the West. The homicide rate is anywhere from 9-11 per 100,000 people compared to an average of 1-2 in Western Europe. Expats are rarely caught up in this violence, however, and should not be of concern.
Like all countries, they have different reasons for violence. One reason it is speculated violence is so high in Russia is due to high levels of alcohol consumption which subsequently leads to dometic abuse and then homicides. Moscow is quite safe with a rate of around 4 per 100,000 which is similar to Amsterdam and Bangkok.
To reduce any likelihoods of this, stick with neighborhoods you know and that are frequented by tourists and wealthy people. Also, avoid making eye contact with shady characters. Russian men like to start conflict, so don’t give them an excuse to do so.
Organized Crimes and Gangs
People often think of Russia being filled with mobsters and skinheads—this isn’t entirely untrue. However, in 2017 the mafia and neo-nazis are much less prevalent than in past decades.
As for the mafia, they have no beef with expats. They have bigger fish to fry.
For skinheads, they do exist, but are not huge in number. They tend to be in the city outskirts, but at night may congregate in more heavily trafficked areas looking for trouble. Again, don’t give them a reason to start a conflict.
People who are, to be blunt, not white are more at risk. Russia is more diverse than you might think, but those who are not ethnically Russian are more likely going to be targeted. Again, this is not a high probability. I met several black people in Russia and they never mentioned any issues except getting some lengthy stares.
Police Harassment and Violence
Again, police presence in Russia, like most other former Soviet states, is quite noticeable. Occasionally, they will harass tourists, asking for paperwork. They’re usually looking for a bribe.
Don’t give them a reason to harass you. Have the proper documents on you at all times. Also, pretend like you don’t speak Russian. If you speak Russian they will engage you and will be more likely to harass you and squeeze a bribe out of you.
The Western media has been predicting Putin’s downfall for years now. Of course, they’ve been blatantly incorrect. Putin is going nowhere. He has high approval ratings and is generally liked and respected, even by political opponents.
Protests in Russia, which are exaggerated by Western media, are not calling for regime change nor Putin’s head. Rather, they are concerned with endemic corruption in the country. Revolt is such less likely than in the USA, where the left is foaming at the mouth to get rid of President Trump.
Safety should not be a reason to stop you from visiting Russia, particularly if you are interested in the tourist cities like Petersburg, Moscow, Sochi and the Golden Ring. I’d be more concerned about the Caucuses and provincial Russia, but they are still reasonable.
Walking around Moscow and St. Petersburg at night is not sat all scary. In fact, if you visit St. Petersburg in the summer and drink till 3 AM it may still be light out when walking home from the bars!
One thing that will make your trip to Russia much more enjoyable, and will keep you safer, is to learn the language. You don’t have to be an expert, but you don’t want to come across as an aloof tourist who doesn’t know any of the language.
To learn Russian quickly and effectively, I highly recommend you check out the Rocket Russian course.