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.
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