Article by Mark Lowe
While considerable attention is being paid to the rise in tensions between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, the U.S. Department of State has issued a harsh advisory regarding American citizens residing or travelling in Russia.
Almost a year ago, on February 20th 2022, the United States embassy in Moscow cautioned American citizens in Russia to prepare evacuation plans as the crisis over Ukraine deepened. Further warnings were issued during the year, the last significant advisory being issued in September 2022.
Since then the situation has further degenerated leading to the Department of State issuing its strongest advisory yet: American citizens, including dual nationals, should leave Russia immediately.
Amongst other considerations, Washington fears that the consequences of the war in Ukraine may lead to the risk of arbitrary arrest or harassment of American citizens on the part of Russian law enforcement agencies.
On February 12th 2023, this fear led the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to issue a strongly worded advisory stating that U.S. citizens residing or travelling in Russia should depart immediately.
Citing Washington’s principal concern, the advisory specified that U.S. nationals should "Exercise increased caution due to the risk of wrongful detentions."
While the risk to American citizens has been clearly specified in the Department of State’s warning, other nations have not followed suit notwithstanding the fact that the risk of arbitrary arrest or harassment is by no means isolated to those holding a blue passport with an eagle emblazoned on its cover.
European citizens are also at risk and this implies the implementation of a series of considerations that should be part of an organisation’s Travel Risk Management procedures. Although very few European citizens are travelling to Russia, the risk cannot be ignored, in fact it is particularly accentuated by exactly the fact that so few are visiting the country.
The geopolitical risks are not confined to Russia, indeed the recent rise in tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China following the invasion of American airspace by a Chinese unmanned airship have further accentuated an already delicate situation.
While Beijing has repeated on a number of occasions that the entry of the Chinese unmanned airship into U.S. airspace was a purely unintended, unexpected and isolated event caused by force majeure, Washington views the situation diversely.
China has criticised the United States for its “trigger-happy overreaction” in downing the unmanned airship with advanced missiles adding that “As a matter of fact, it is the United States who is the number one surveillance country and has the largest spy network in the world.”
While we wait for the situation to reach the next phase of its development, the reciprocal accusations are anything but good news for those travelling to China.
Care should be exercised in particular by those who are dual European-American passport holders or whose companies have joint ventures or business interests in the United States.
While the geopolitical spats are dominating the headlines, political instability is rampant around the world bringing with it the requirement to closely study developments and update mitigation and management policies and procedures.
No stranger to political instability, Africa is once again rife with situations that have the potential to worsen. The importance of Nigeria’s forthcoming elections to both the country and the wider region are testament to this in the same way that political instability and infighting remain major hindrances to South Africa’s economic growth.
Economic growth generally brings stability and with this a less challenging operating environment in which opportunities can be explored with less risks and greater freedom of movement.
Returning to Asia, one example of heightened political instability and uncertainty is Pakistan. As the country edges ever closer to debt default, political turmoil and unrest appear to be on a collision course from which very little of positive can be expected.
Currently Islamabad is facing its greatest crisis of the modern era, the country’s economy is facing total collapse in a manner similar to that of its neighbour Sri Lanka. Its politicians are engaged in a violent power struggle, while an emboldened Taliban-affiliated terror group is laying siege to the country’s west and north.
While in terms of travel most of the particularly dangerous areas of the country are of little interest to European countries, there is not reason to be complacent in the major cities where unrest, power strikes and general outages can cause major problems to anyone visiting them.
Asia and Africa are far from being alone, the violent protests that have shaken Peru since President Pedro Castillo was removed from office in December 2022 are a serious issue of concern for business travellers.
Almost 60 civilians have died in the unrest that erupted across the country in December 2022: most were victims of gunshot wounds.
The bottom line is not that of taking current situations into consideration but of exercising a heightened level of risk awareness.
While we are aware of the fact that certain situations, such as Nigeria’s forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, need to be closely monitored, the same applies for other countries or regions where a relatively stable scenario could change rapidly.
This implies closely monitoring the countries that travellers intend visiting and reviewing mitigation and incident response capabilities in order to assure that they are both updated and robust.
If you would like to know more about how Pyramid Temi Group can support your organisation, contact us and our experts will be glad to assist.
In the global broadcaster's Travel section of their website, CNN published an article earlier today that raises an important question: "What travel warnings do other nations give their citizens about US violence?"(Link to the article HERE).
Without any doubt the article has been prompted by the latest mass shooting: last Monday at least seven people were killed in two shootings in the San Francisco Bay area.
There were but the latest in a year that has already been characterised by 39 mass shootings in only three weeks.
It is well known that the United States of America is awash with legally and illegally detained arms, however, the figures are astounding: according to an estimate by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey, there are about 393 million privately owned firearms in the US.
While the exact number of firearms owned by civilians is extremely difficult to calculate due to a variety of factors including unregistered weapons and the illegal trade in firearms, the Small Arms Survey's estimates means that there are 120 guns for every 100 American citizens.
The sobering truth is that no other nation has more civilian firearms than citizens.
Two statistics put the reality of gun ownership and use into context: the first is that according to a Gallup survey conducted in October 2022, almost 45% of US adults stated that they lived in a household with a gun, the second is that according to the december 2022 edition of Pediatrics - the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death among people younger than 24 in the United States.
Exactly what defines a mass shooting depends on whom you ask, for example the Federal Bureau of Investigation considers a "mass killing" as "three or more killings in a single incident."
Others define a mass shooting as one in which more than four people are killed or injured, in any case the simple fact is that, according to the Gun Violence Archive, mass shootings in the United States are increasing.
While mass shootings attract worldwide attention, the same cannot be said for incidents in which firearms are used during robberies or other criminal acts. Unfortunately, as per mass shootings, these incidents are also on the rise.
While statistics indicate that international travellers are highly unlikely to be involved in a mass shooting, the same cannot be said for other scenarios such as opportune crimes - a mugging or a street robbery, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While both cases are difficult to predict, there are ways to lower the visitor's exposure to gun crime. Avoiding dimly lit or empty streets and remaining in central areas and avoiding those parts of a town or city that have higher crime rates are the two most obvious.
Less obvious considerations are, for example, avoiding visits to local grocery stores in the evening when the likelihood of an armed robbery is higher.
Situational awareness is fundamental, travellers must be aware of their surroundings and avoid areas that they should not find themselves in. When in a shopping mall, restaurant or bar visitors should make themselves familiar with potential escape routes and hiding places.
These are a few considerations that serve the purpose of illustrating considerations that should be integrated into an organisation's Travel Risk Management training programmes.
CNN Travel's "What travel warnings do other nations give their citizens about US violence?" article focused on different governments' advice to their citizens intending to travel to the United States.
As the analysis illustrates, the advice is varied but the risk of gun related crime has been highlighted on all of the websites examined by CNN Travel.
Pyramid Temi Group strongly advises organisations to brief their personnel in detail as to the risk of violent crime in general but including a special focus on gun crimes.
Travellers should be made aware of the risk and the correct procedures to mitigate against the danger. Advice should also be given in regards as to the most correct actions to be taken in a number of situations that range from being threatened with a gun during a robbery to being involved in a mass shooting.
Organisations should also have robust emergency plans to deal with a situation in which an employee or representative has been involved in any form of violent crime.