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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Mail Scandal: Why Sacks Go Astray

The experienced Muscovite already knows that the Russian mail cannot be entrusted with anything more valuable than postcards.


Now, the Communications Ministry, the government agency overseeing the postal system, openly acknowledges that they are unable to assure the security of the country's international mail.


The reason, according to a recent letter from deputy minister, Boris Butenko, is that they take virtually no security precautions with mail during transport.


"We have often turned to the Transportation Ministry with a request to provide security to international mail", wrote Butenko in early June.


In one instance in May a Russian man found several sacks of international mail dumped into a lake right outside Sheremetyevo airport.


"These discovered bags of correspondence were stolen by workers of the Sheremetyevo-2 transportation department", Butenko wrote.


With thousands of communications, if not more, regularly interrupted by shortcomings in the delivery system, the Communications Ministry has decided it is time to beef up security, officials say.


Nothing has yet been set in stone, but officials are looking at creating a special investigative wing to pinpoint diversions from the mail system and initiate prosecutions.


The post office is also looking for ways to improve security at Sheremetyevo Airport, where airport workers unload the mail and sometimes steal sacks of mail before delivering it to the post office, according to Sergei Sergeyev, assistant director of Moscow's international post division.


"We lose mail fairly often, but not every day", he said. "The main problem is at Sheremetyevo, but there are also problems down the line".


Vladimir Yelmanov, the airport's chief of police, said recently that corruption and thievery extends across all levels of the airport, even to the police, making it a "gold mine" for self-enrichment. Cash hidden inside envelopes is the main reason for stealing mail, airport and postal officials say.


While the mail system has experienced the collapse of the strict security of the Soviet era, many of the sillier rules of the past are still in place. In a little-known provision, Russia's customs officers reserve the right to seize all cash, which they consider a contraband item.


Foreigners are also forbidden from sending Russians checks, stocks, lottery tickets, photo negatives, and postage stamps, unless on the envelope. and as for mail from the United States, the Russian code also prohibits all literature and medical products on abortion and birth control, as well as documents "of an insulting nature".