- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 11, 2018

The State Department has advised U.S. citizens against visiting Russia, citing risks including civil unrest, terrorism and targeted harassment against Americans.

“Reconsider travel to Russia due to terrorism and harassment. Some areas have increased risk,” the State Department said in a travel advisory Wednesday.

The warning was issued in tandem with the roll out of a new, four-tiered ranking system designed to help Americans understand the safety risks associated with traveling abroad. Americans should “exercise normal precautions” while visiting first tier nations like Canada and Sweden, according to the State Department’s new ranking system, while fourth level states such as Iran and North Korea are designated as “Do not travel.”

Russia is ranked in tier three, putting it in the same category as Sudan, Pakistan and Niger.

“Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Russia,” said the accompanying travel advisory. “Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets/shopping malls and local government facilities. Bomb threats against public venues are common.

“U.S. citizens are often victims of harassment, mistreatment and extortion by law-enforcement and other officials,” the warning continued. “U.S. consular assistance to detained individuals is often unreasonably delayed by Russian officials. Russia also enforces special restrictions on dual U.S.-Russian nationals. Due to the Russian government-imposed reduction on U.S. diplomatic personnel in Russia, the U.S. government has reduced ability to provide services to U.S. citizens.”

Additionally the warning advised Americans entirely against traveling to Russia’s north Caucasus region, as well as the Crimean peninsula annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The U.S. government is unable to provide emergency services to citizens visiting either region because “U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling” there, the warning said.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, decried the warning as a scare tactic meant to further the rift between former Cold War foes, The Moscow Times reported Thursday.

“If U.S. citizens massively come to Russia then they’ll see with their own eyes that nothing that American public officials are scaring them with is actually true,” Ms. Zakharova said.

“Increasing antagonisms among normal people is what the Russophobic campaign of figures like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain is based on.”

Nearly 250,000 Americans visited Russia in 2016, according to Moscow’s official immigration figures.

Americans who decide to visit Russia regardless of the warning should avoid demonstrations, keep track of local news events, stay alert and have their travel documents up to date and accessible, said the State Department.

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