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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Terror Brings Back Soviet-Era Suspicion




In many Moscow apartment buildings over the past week, the clock has seemed to wind back to an earlier, more sinister time, when residents watched their neighbors suspiciously for signs of enemy activity.


In the days following the lethal bombings on Ulitsa Guryanova and Kashirskoye Shosse, the police have received thousands of calls from city residents reporting questionable activity in their buildings. And some Moscow expatriates say their foreign status alone has drawn the police to their doorsteps - often at their neighbors' behest.


The homes of several staff members of The Moscow Times were approached on Monday and Tuesday by police requesting a document check. Each time, the police reported that their visits were prompted by a resident of the building calling to report the presence of a foreigner.


In other instances, expatriates reported that they were simply caught up as police swept buildings, searching for violations of city registration rules by non-Muscovites.


"I was coming home last night with a rucksack and the police asked to check it and my passport," one woman wrote to the Expat List, an e-mail forum for the expatriate community. "I didn't have it on me and they went upstairs and then started to sniff around the apartment and asked to see my registration.


"They said they had orders to search all apartments that are rented. I told them they needed a search warrant and they promised to come back with one. One neighbor, seeing this, got upset and today went down to call them to complain that I ruined the linoleum in the hall! She's been screaming about foreigners and 'strange people' ever since."


An expatriate man, responding with his own story of neighborly suspicion, wrote back: "They were remembering the good old days."


Doorstep document checks, which have become almost routine in the wake of the past week's pair of devastating bombings, were once considered an annoyance by the expatriate community. Now, however, some foreigners - anxious to see city security stepped up - have experienced a change of heart.


"I gladly show my documents at this point because I don't want to be blown up," said Max Volsky, an American who works at First Mercantile Capital Group.


If the police do show up at your door, they have the right to demand your passport and visa in order to make sure you have complied with the city's registration requirement, said Vladimir Vershkov, chief spokesman for the Moscow Police Department.


"You must show your documents, but you don't have to let [police officers] in," Vershkov said in a telephone interview. He added that technically police can only conduct doorstep checks on suspicion of a crime or misdemeanor, but "because apartments are being worked over in the interest of security, we're hoping for understanding."


Some renters have reported police demanding to see a lease, but Vershkov said residents were under no obligation to produce one.


Lease checking "is the right of housing officials, and sometimes they are checking in conjunction with the police," he said. The police "have the right to check if you are registered at that address, but your financial affairs are your own business."


But Diederik Lohman, the office director of Human Rights Watch Moscow, offered a word of caution: "Sometimes the police themselves don't know the law."


Lohman recommended opening the door to the police and complying with document checks in order to avoid arousing suspicion. Foreign residents should immediately call their embassies and ask diplomats to speak to the police if the officers insist on entering an apartment over residents' objections or if other violations are suspected, he said. And everyone should demand a police identification from anyone knocking on the door requesting to see personal documents.