February 13, 2023 | 11:16 a.m
The State Department has told all US citizens still in Russia to leave the country immediately because of the ongoing war in Ukraine and the risk of harassment and detention by Kremlin security officials.
“US citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately. Be extra cautious due to the risk of wrongful arrests,” read the ministry’s latest travel advisory issued on Monday.
The department also urged US citizens not to travel to Russia “due to the unforeseen consequences of the unprovoked large-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian military forces, the potential harassment and singled out of US citizens for detention by Russian government security officials , the arbitrary enforcement of local laws, limited flights to and from Russia, the embassy’s limited ability to assist US citizens in Russia, and the possibility of terrorism
The State Department said the US government is “severely constrained” in its ability to provide emergency services to citizens in Russia, particularly in areas outside of Moscow, citing Russian travel restrictions for embassy staff.
The alert, updated from one issued in September, says US citizens have been stopped and interrogated and warned that Russian officials may not inform the embassy that Americans have been arrested.
“Russian security services have detained U.S. citizens on false charges, singled out U.S. citizens in Russia for detention and harassment, denied them fair and transparent treatment, and convicted them in secret trials or without providing credible evidence,” the State Department said.
Russia has also imposed martial law in regions bordering Ukraine, authorizing a variety of harsh measures including curfews, confiscation of private property, restrictions on movement, arrests of foreigners and bans on public gatherings.
“Recent laws have expanded the Russian authorities’ ability to arrest, question and detain people suspected of acting against Russia’s interests, including cooperation with foreign and international organizations, discrediting the Russian state or military, and advocacy for the rights of LGBTQI+ people,” the alert said.
The Kremlin dismissed the Foreign Ministry’s warning, saying it was “not new”.
“Calls not to visit Russia, to leave Russia – this isn’t the first time we’ve heard that. The Foreign Ministry has said this many times, it’s not new,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
WNBA star Brittney Griner was released by Russia last December after being jailed for almost 10 months after being arrested at Moscow Airport for bringing cannabis oil into the country.
She was freed in a prisoner exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Former Marine Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year sentence in Russia after being arrested in 2018 and convicted of espionage.
Russia is one of 19 countries for which the State Department has issued a no-travel warning. The others are: Afghanistan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela and Yemen.