Anti-American sentiment and criminal activities have increased in Moscow since Russian forces took over Ukraine’s Crimea and continue to destabilize eastern Ukraine, a recent State Department security report reveals.
Security threats in Moscow and Russia include petty crime, physical attacks, activities by organized crime groups, corrupt law enforcement and security officials, widespread cyber crime, and economic espionage, according to the Feb. 6 report produced by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), a State Department group that supports American businesses abroad.
"The social and political unrest in Ukraine has led to increasing political tensions between the Russian Federation and the U.S. and other Western nations," the report, based on reports from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said. "As a result, anti-American and anti-Western sentiment appears to be increasing, especially in certain media outlets."
A copy of the internal report was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
The report said U.S.-Russia ties were "greatly strained" after Moscow’s actions in Ukraine.
Embassy reports indicate a number of Americans were verbally harassed and physically assaulted in the last part of 2014, but the report said so far no major campaign of targeted attacks against Americans was detected.
"Immediately following the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia by the U.S. and Europe, some American ‘iconic brand’ companies were heavily scrutinized by the Russian authorities, and in some cases, closed, if only temporarily," the report said.
The report concluded that Russia’s political, economic, and social climate "changed markedly as a result of the country’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, ongoing support for military separatists in eastern Ukraine, U.S./Western economic sanctions, and a dramatic drop in the price of oil that significantly weakened the value of the Russian ruble."
On cyber threats, the report said: "The cybercrime threat is acute. The risk of infection, compromise, and theft via malware, spam email, sophisticated spear phishing, and social engineering attacks is significant."
The report warned all U.S. businesses and citizens to exercise caution and adhere to all cyber security best practices.
The report also said Russian economic espionage and theft of intellectual property poses a threat to Americans.
"American businesses are susceptible to economic and industrial espionage," the report said. "Information theft, especially from insufficiently protected computer networks, is common. It is recommended that businesses employ counter-surveillance techniques, such as video monitoring devices, alarm systems, and computer network protection programs."
Russia’s Federal Security Service also can take action against Americans doing business with the Russian military-industrial complex.
"Any misunderstanding or dispute in such transactions can attract the involvement of the security services and lead to investigation or prosecution for espionage," the report said.
In a section on Russian government surveillance, the report said, "OSAC constituents have no expectation of privacy."
All telephone and electronic communications are subject to monitoring and surveillance, something that "can potentially compromise sensitive information."
"The Russian System for Operational-Investigative Activities (SORM) permits authorities to monitor and record all data that traverses Russia’s networks lawfully," the report said. "Travelers should assume all communications are monitored."
Personal information can be compromised by Russian electronic monitoring of cell phones, laptops, and other electronics.
Comparing the overall crime threat in Moscow to other major world cities, the report notes that petty theft, muggings, and other crimes frequently occur on public transportation and in heavily traveled walkways.
"Violent crime, including incidents backed by organized crime, is not uncommon," the report said.
A major organized crime group known as "Grand Theft Auto" carried out at least 15 killings on Moscow roads. The group uses metal spikes placed on roads to burst the tires of target cars. The vehicle drivers are gunned down by GTA members after pulling over to examine the flat tires.
Civil unrest also is increasing, with large street demonstrations in Moscow involving tens of thousands of people who demonstrated against both Russian actions in the Ukraine and Crimea and the U.S. government response to those actions.
The report also warned that ultra-nationalists have targeted minorities and non-Russian foreigners for attacks, with surveillance camera video showing groups of young Russian men brutally assaulting passersby.
Pollution and environmental hazards also pose threats, including a number of industrial accidents caused by "aging infrastructure and endemic corruption" related to lack of enforcement of safety and health standards.
For example, last fall the government warned that industrial gases, including hydrogen sulfide, were released in the air in Moscow.
The threat of terrorism in Russia also remains high as Islamists in several parts of the country continue to conduct shootings and bombing attacks.
The report rated the threat of political violence in Russia as "high," noting continued terrorist attacks throughout 2014 in Chechnya.
Moscow and St. Petersburg have been hit by terrorist attacks in recent years and bombings have been carried out against government buildings, airports, hotels, tourist sites, markets, entertainment venues, schools, and residential complexes, and on public transportation including subways, buses, trains, and scheduled commercial flights.
Criminal groups are targeting people in Russia who carry large sums of cash—usually tens of thousands of U.S. dollars or millions of rubles—in robberies or break-ins. The attacks have occurred against vehicles stopped in heavy traffic by smashing the window of cars and robbing occupants.
An executive of a multi-national company was attacked in December by criminals inside his Moscow residence, bound with tape, and robbed of a large sum of cash.
Auto theft rings also are flourishing, with criminal groups stealing luxury cars and shipping them out of Moscow for resale.
The report also said Russia has the "second worst" record for aviation safety with an aviation accident every one in 275,000 flights.
The report described Russian police as often "unprofessional or unwilling to deal with incidents of crime."
"In some cases, local law enforcement officers failed to take action even when they witnessed crimes in progress," the report said.
"It is not uncommon for foreigners to become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion by law enforcement and other officials."
Police can arbitrarily detain people and random document checks have been used for "on-the-spot" payment of fines.
Medical treatment in Moscow also is dangerous. The report recommends avoiding blood transfusions "due to uncertainties surrounding the local blood supply."
The U.S. Embassy advises Americans who fall seriously ill in Russia to hire medical evacuation services.