By Tom Ozimek
The State Department is urging any Americans who are in Russia to leave immediately, citing an elevated risk of arbitrary arrest by Russian security officials amid a more general warning of “unpredictable consequences” stemming from the Ukraine war and the “possibility of terrorism.”
“U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Russia should depart immediately. Exercise increased caution due to the risk of wrongful detentions,” reads the latest advisory from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, which is overseen by the State Department.
The travel advisory, issued on Feb. 12, noted a series of security risks facing U.S. citizens in Russia, including arbitrary enforcement of local law and the possibility that they could be forced to fight in the war.
“Russia may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ U.S. citizenship, deny their access to U.S. consular assistance, subject them to mobilization, prevent their departure from Russia, and/or conscript them,” the warning states.
Americans in Russia face “the potential for harassment” as well as the threat of being singled out for arrest, the embassy warned.
The State Department said that recent legislation has expanded the ability of Russian authorities to detain and question people suspected of acting against Moscow’s interest, noting that U.S. citizens in Russia “have been interrogated without cause and threatened by Russian officials, and may become victims of harassment, mistreatment, and extortion.”
Compounding the security risk to American citizens in Russia is the fact that the U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide emergency services in the country has been “severely limited” because of restrictions on travel for embassy staff and the suspension of services at U.S. consulates.
“Do not travel to Russia,” the State Department cautioned.
‘Terrorists May Attack’
Regarding the threat of terrorism mentioned in the travel advisory, the State Department said that both transnational and local terrorist organizations “continue plotting possible attacks in Russia.”
“Terrorists may attack with little or no warning,” it cautioned, listing possible targets like tourist locations, shopping malls, hotels, clubs, restaurants, and places of worship.
The State Department noted that travel to the North Caucasus is prohibited for U.S. government employees and “strongly discouraged” for ordinary citizens amid the terror threat.
A day after the State Department issued the warning that includes mention of the terror threat, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service was cited by Russian state media as saying it has received “credible information” of an alleged U.S. military plot to recruit ISIS-linked jihadists to “carry out terrorist attacks in Russia.”
The spy service claimed that 60 terrorists with combat experience in the Middle East were picked in January and are undergoing a “fast-track training course” at a U.S. military base in Syria, where they’re being instructed in “subversive methods” and how to make improvised explosives.
It claimed that “in the near future,” small groups of these terrorists would be deployed to Russia, tasked with attacking diplomats, civil servants, law enforcement agents, and military personnel.
The Epoch Times reached out to the State Department for comment, but there was none by press time.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov downplayed the advisory, telling reporters in Moscow on Feb. 13 that the U.S. State Department’s alert is “something we’ve heard in the past, it’s not new.”
The travel advisory level for Russia has been at “Level 4: Do Not Travel” since shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nearly a year ago.
Relations between the two countries have slumped to the lowest point since the Cold War amid what Russian President Vladimir Putin describes as a “special military operation” to remove from power what he says is a “Nazi” regime in Kyiv that was becoming increasingly hostile to Moscow.
Peskov also addressed the warning to U.S. citizens that they might be conscripted and forced to fight in the war.
“The fact that citizens with dual citizenship are mentioned there … these citizens for us are, first of all, citizens of Russia, regardless of what [other] citizenship they have,” Peskov said, according to the Anadolu Agency, a Turkish state-run media outlet.
The spokesperson denied that a second round of mobilization was looming while also addressing the elevated terror threat in the context of Putin’s public engagements.
“The security of the president … is provided at the proper level, taking into account all the risks and dangers,” Peskov said, adding that Putin’s public appearances would not be curtailed despite the presence of a heightened risk of terror attacks, according to the Anadolu Agency.
Meanwhile, Russian forces continued over the weekend to shell Ukrainian positions amid a grinding push to seize more land in the east of the country.
Russian forces carried out 12 missile and 32 air strikes in Ukraine and carried out over 90 rounds of shelling from multiple rocket launchers in the 24 hours leading up to Ukraine’s General Staff’s daily morning update of Feb. 12.
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Ukrainian television on the eve of Feb. 11 that the much-anticipated Russian offensive had begun.
“They have begun their offensive, they’re just not saying they have, and our troops are repelling it very powerfully,” Danilov said.