Special Military Operation: Travel Implications

Author: waytorussia (on 29 Sep 2022)
As you are well aware, Russia has started a "special military operation" in Ukraine in February 2022. In this article, we want to talk about the practical implications it may have on your travel and presence in Russia. 
First of all, we would like to make it clear that we have to use the term "special military operation" on this website, because calling this conflict in a different way is penalized by the Russian criminal code. As we still want to be able to travel to Russia because we have relatives and friends who live there, we have to be using this official term in the public domain. 
Secondly, while we are aware that many people might not want to travel to Russia for personal, political, moral, and security concerns, we also believe that it is important to separate the Russian people and culture from the Russian state. As we have written before, at the very beginning of the "special operation", ostracizing the Russian people and culture will lead to further escalation and radicalization. That's why we decided to not close down this website, but to keep it online. So that those who need to travel to Russia for humanitarian reasons, to see their friends or relatives, or simply as a tourist in order to experience what is going on in person for anthropological reasons or otherwise can still do so and can have access to the information they need to be able to do it in the context of the current situation.
At the same time, we also want to bring to your attention that for some time now, there have been rumours that the citizens of so-called "unfriendly" nations will have to get special exit visas to leave Russia (most EU countries, USA, Canada, Australia, and others — all the "Western" world, basically). These rumours appeared as the foreign embassies in Russia advised their residents and nationals to leave Russia as soon as possible (29 September 2022). Aggravated by the context where the flights out of Russia are too expensive and land borders are being closed down. Also, all this happening the context of a military operation that has all the chances to escalate. That's why we recommend you to check the current situation and take the precautions necessary and avoid traveling to Russia if you think the situation might escalate and it may be hard for you to leave Russia.
We also like to think of Way to Russia as an archive of the Russian culture, even if it currently does not fully coincide with the values proclaimed by the official Russian state. Many of the articles on this website, including our book, talk about the different aspects of the Russian culture and psyche, which may also help understand the current predicament. Some of these aspects have taken a grotesque shape, some others — receded, and it will take us time to process this change, to reflect upon it, and to write something about it — but we certainly will. 
Now, to the practical aspect of travel. 
It is still possible to get a visa to Russia even if you come from a NATO country, which is on the official "unfriendly countries" list. The process is as before: you need to get a Russian visa support letter (tourist for short-term visits, "business" for long-term visits), make an appointment at the Russian consulate, and get your visa delivered to you in person. This whole process takes about 3 weeks and costs about $100-$200, depending on the country you're from. Citizens of some countries can also get an electronic visa to Russia for visits up to 10 days. However, you have to check with the Russian consulate in you country if this options is still available. If they have a link to the "e-visa" — then you can apply this way. 
Obviously, we recommend you to double-check the current situation and make a personal prognosis of how it's going to evolve in order to estimate the level of your personal safety. As you probably know, a Basketball player from the US was taken into custody last year (before the "operation") at Sheremetyevo airport because she was carrying a CBD vape with her. It is illegal according to the Russian law and you want to make sure that you don't have anything on you that may compromise you in any way and make you an easy target to use as a bait in an inter-state blackmailing exercise. Additionally, we advise you to monitor your social media and to see whether or not you made any public statements about the "special military operation" that may compromise you in any way when you're crossing the Russian border. While we did not hear of any reports of the border officials checking the foreigners' social media, they do it to some of the Russian citizens, so we would not exclude this possibility. If you are using Telegram and are subscribed to pro-Ukrainian channels, you might get into trouble if your phone gets checked, so you should be simply aware of that. 
If you have a Russian passport, you have to be aware of the current partial mobilization announced on the 21st of September 2022, meaning that you might be recruited to the army once you are in Russia. While only 1% of the males are mobilized and you need to have a registered military profession, there may be restrictions on traveling out of Russia for the males who fall into the conscription age bracket (18 to 60 years).
You may also need to ensure you have alternative means of payment on you. Your credit cards might not work in the local ATMs, so your best bet is to find a Russian person who could exchange your dollars / euros for some cash or bring some cash with you. Note, that the EU countries have a restriction on bringing the cash € in/out of Russia, so you might be safer with US dollars or rubles if you can get hold of them. You can exchange dollars and euros in Russia (as of end September 2022). However, this may change if there are further sanctions or be very restricted. That's why we recommend you to buy some Chinese yuans and to bring part of your funds in this currency with you. You can also get a cryptocurrency wallet in USDT, Ether, and Bitcoin ($1000 on each for example) and then use some of the ATMs or services like Cashex.Cc or Bestchange.Ru to find a P2P exchange and arrange a transfer of your crypto assets into Russian rubles (on your mobile phone account, which you can always cash out at any telecom office). You also can use some BTC/USDT cash machines in Moscow or in the Moscow City business center (where a cluster of crypto exchanges is also based). Another option is to receive a cash payment via Unistream, Contact, or KoronaPay — the payment systems that may still be working in Russia (you have to verify on their websites if they still operate).
In terms of transportation, things are difficult because of the closed airspace. It is still possible to enter or leave Russia overland via Estonia, Latvia and Finland (much easier if you hold a non-Russian passport) as well as Norway (further as the crossing is near Murmansk, but still suitable for the Russian passport holders). Only buses and private taxis operate on overland routes. The easiest route for a holder of a EU or US passport is to fly to Riga (Latvia) or Helsinki (Finland) and to then take a bus to St. Petersburg — about 6 hours (or Moscow from Riga — overnight bus for 8 hours). The cheapest route is to enter Kaliningrad region via Poland (by bus from Gdansk) and to then fly to Moscow — but this is only suitable for the holders of non-Russian passports. There is a Russian-language relocation guide for the Russians who want to escape the regime, which has a lot of practical info on the border crossings that are still open (you can use Google translate to read it).
You can also fly via Turkey (Turkish Airlines), Quatar (Quatar Airlines), Armenia (Aeroflot), as well as Kazakhstan (Astana Air). The airline tickets are quite expensive (from $600 one way), but the tickets through Armenia seem to be the cheapest. Booking a flight is easier via the airline directly as some flight aggregators don't list the flights to / from Russia. We recommend you to book a return flight directly. 
All other things are functioning in Russia as before. The trains are working, the restaurants and the hotels are open. Obviously, you cannot use the western services, like Booking.Com or AirBnB to book your accommodation, but you can use local ones, such as Ostrovok (for hotels) or Aviasales (for plane tickets). In fact, the well-functioning infrastructure keeps visibility of the normality and this is a very bizarre thing in the current context.
image by wikipedia / wikimedia



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