Foreign passports are taken from officials and employees of state-owned companies
After the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, many employees of Russian departments, state-owned companies, and state-owned corporations became virtually immobile. This is confirmed in the investigation of the “Real Time” project and Radio Liberty “Sistema”.
Some of them were directly asked to hand over their foreign passports, an interlocutor in the management of one of the state-owned companies, an official of the regional government and a manager of a tourist company connected with VIP-recreation told “Sistema” (all of them asked for anonymity, as they are not authorized to communicate with the press).
Alexandra Prokopenko, a guest employee of the German Council on International Affairs (DGAP), writes about the confiscation of foreign passports of some civil servants and employees of state-owned companies in a column for the Carnegie Center: “In 2022, the permission [на выезд] stopped giving first to management, and later to simply employees with access to the second level of secrecy”.
According to Sistema interlocutors, in some cases it is about giving the document to the FSB for storage, in some – to a special department at the place of work.
Those who do not do this are offered to resign, says a “Sistema” source familiar with the internal regulations of one of the state-owned companies. Some employees end up resigning themselves without waiting for an answer to the question of the seriousness of this threat.
In some cases, FSB officers hint that in case of refusal to hand over the passport, they can “cancel” it in some way, so that it will not help when traveling abroad in any case (real cases of such “cancellation”, however, are unknown).
There is no single rule or order regarding foreign passports, according to interlocutors polled by “Sistema” in state bodies at different levels: in some cases, the case is limited to a strict recommendation to avoid foreign vacation. Someone is prohibited from traveling abroad, someone is prohibited from traveling outside the EAEU zone (Eurasian Economic Zone, which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia) or the CSTO (Countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization).
A former employee of one of the state banks heard about a direct ban on travel abroad for some employees – however, the ban is not total, for many it is a matter of additional agreements agreed within the company. Another official of the federal authorities says that the prohibition “at the level of general knowledge” applies to everyone who has at least some level of access to the guest house (there are three of them in total): passports are not asked to be handed over directly, but everyone knows that applications for the management will not sign a vacation abroad.
A Sistema source close to the administration of the Russian president says that most Kremlin employees “don’t even ask” to leave somewhere. Another source, however, claims that during 2022, some of them quite calmly traveled to “neutral” (from the point of view of the Russian political leadership) countries – the permission for such a trip could be personally signed by the head of the Kremlin administration, Anton Vaino.
The ministries also have an individual approach: some employees are allowed to leave “for valid reasons”, someone is released, for example, to the United Arab Emirates with the obligation to fill out a report on the trip upon return. There is also such a scheme: before going on vacation, a civil servant signs a notice that he does not intend to visit foreign countries, but leaves anyway, and then reports on changed plans.
There were restrictions on personal trips abroad for Russian civil servants and employees of state companies even before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but the confiscation of foreign passports from a wide range of civil servants was not previously publicly reported.
It became known about the tightening of rules for Russian officials visiting foreign countries back in 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, participation in the armed conflict in the Donbass, and subsequent sanctions. Then they announced restrictions on travel abroad for employees of law enforcement agencies and judges. First of all, it was about “unfriendly countries”, the list of which was constantly corrected by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. RBC then wrote that in the police, FSB, Ministry of Emergency Situations and the prosecutor’s office, officers at the level of platoon commander and above were ordered to hand over their passports for safekeeping. The ban on leaving was formally explained by the form of admission to the guesthouse.
Civil servants and employees of state companies were not subject to such strict prohibitions. Federal civil servants had to get permission to leave the country, but often this happened simply by notification, a former federal official told Sistema.
In the government after 2014, for example, there was such a procedure for coordinating foreign trips, says a former employee of the White House: before the trip, it was necessary to sign a corresponding application with the responsible manager. As a rule, there were no problems with this – however, a few years ago, the government banned travel to the USA and Georgia altogether. Sometimes the travel agreements were literally at the level of “go wherever you want, only without photos on social networks,” says another former federal civil servant.
It was the photos on social networks that became the reason for a new wave of public discussion about the necessity of restrictions on the departure of Russian officials and deputies from the country. In January 2023, a scandal arose in Russia after the publication of photos of Kursk Oblast Duma deputy Maksym Vasiliev in Mexico and Vologda deputy Denis Dolzhenko from Dubai.
After that, the authorities of several regions of Russia declared that officials and deputies should refrain from foreign trips. However, in most cases, the official appeals were of a “recommendatory nature,” Kommersant newspaper wrote.
Russian government press secretary Vadym Belyakov did not respond to Sistema’s questions about the new restrictions for civil servants. The press secretary of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, assured in January that “there are no decisions, no directives on this matter at the present time” and that the question of such a ban is not being discussed.
A well-forgotten novelty
Speaking about the absence of new directives, Peskov, apparently, was not mistaken. The fact is that the current Russian laws and regulations already allow restricting the travel of officials and even confiscating their foreign passports – first of all, those of holders of guest passports (in theory, every official or employee of a state-owned company can fall under such restrictions, but the exact number of Russians with access to host is unknown).
The Law on the Procedure for Exiting Russia describes the range of persons whose exit may be restricted due to work: those who are admitted to the guest house and have signed the relevant contract (the ban may be extended even after dismissal), military personnel and those undergoing alternative service, as well as active and former employees of the FSB within five years after dismissal. According to the law, they all have to hand over their passports before the expiry of the restrictions “to the state body that issued the passport”. In some state bodies, separate resolutions were adopted: according to them, for example, the passport should be handed over to the “regime-secret division”.
And according to the new law, adopted in July 2022, those who in theory are subject to legislative restrictions on exit, but still left Russia, can be fined from 200 to 500 thousand rubles or even imprisoned for a period of one to three years This article is not applied en masse, it is only known that in January 2023, two former officials were fined 250 thousand rubles each for visiting Abkhazia.