How to Behave When Approached by Police on Moscow Streets: Juristic Tips for Foreigners and Locals

Muscovites’ depictions regarding the work of local police are traditionally either ironic or simply negative. Foreigners a fortiori are terrified of the Moscow police, and especially by the fact that they’re armed.

This fear, however, exists even among native Muscovites. A survey conducted a few years ago called “Factors of Public Confidence in the Police: Experiences of Residents of Moscow” showed that the statement “an innocent man has nothing to fear from police” scored only three points out of five. Think about it.

And so…

We are all scared.

Now, in the era of general international instability and a great threat hanging over the peaceful skies of many countries, the police function is particularly important. In Moscow, it can be easily seen by how the number of police officers has increased–in the streets, subway, etc. A question that I personally ask myself is: “Are they here to protect us, or to rein in?” Whether the policemen themselves know the purpose is also a question.

That is why we consider it particularly important to remind the Russian citizens as well as foreigners and tourists in Moscow on how to behave when faced with the police, and which human rights we should all memorize.

We applied to the prominent Russian lawyer, the authorized representative of the Chamber of Advocates of the European Union in Russia and the head of the Bar Association “Treshchev Defense” Alexander Treshchev for a consultation regarding the laws.


What should you do if you are stopped on the street by a police officer and asked to present your documents?

The verification of documents is an important part of police work on the prevention and detection of offenses and crimes in the country. However, there is a fair question of whether or not the policeman may ask to check the documents of all those that he meets on his way. The answer is NO, regardless of nationality.

On the basis of Article 55 of the Russian Constitution, only federal law can impose such obligations. However, there is no such law that imposes the duty to carry a passport so respectively, you cannot be prosecuted for not having an ID with you.

At the same time, according to Part 2 of Article 13 of the Law “About Police”, the police officer has the right to check the identity of a person in a strictly limited number of cases. For example, if:

  • There is reason to suspect a person of committing a crime;
  • There are reasons to believe that the person is being sought;
  • There is a reason for instituting proceedings against a citizen of an administrative offense.

But even if the grounds for checking your documents are there, a police officer firstly must:

  • Name you his position, rank, surname;
  • To present at the request of the citizen certificate of employment;
  • Report the reason and the purpose of the request.

If the police officer can’t explain the reason and purpose for the request, it is necessary to request of him politely, to please explain on what basis he requires documents proving your identity.

Realizing that talking to a police officer could last more than a couple of minutes and be completely fascinating, prudently commit a sticky note on your phone, notebook or somewhere else with the name of a police officer, his position, and identification number of his identity, which he is obliged to provide to you.

The police cannot ask for verification documents from any passer-by, regardless of nationality. You cannot be prosecuted for not having ID with you.

The information obtained, at a minimum, might turn the policeman’s monologue into a dialogue and possibly change his attitude for the better. In the opposite case, it will be useful for you in the future, in case the police officer’s actions become illegal.

If you still think that there is no reason for the inspection of your documents, but the police officer categorically disagrees with you, you can submit your documents for verification and at the same time inform the duty police officer by phone (number 122) about the violation of your rights.

At the same time, you have the right to not transfer documents into the hands of the police officer, so that you don’t become a sort of hostage, as the withdrawal of identity cards in circumstances not connected with taking you into custody, for example, is a direct violation of the law.

What if you are a foreign citizen and a police officer asks you to submit documents confirming the legality of your stay in Russia?

We remind you that the police CANNOT ask for verification documents from any passer-by, regardless of nationality.

According to Part 2 of Article 13 of the Law “About Police”, the police officer has the right to check the identity of a person in a strictly limited number of cases. For example, if a) there is reason to suspect a person of committing a crime; b) there are reasons to believe that the person is being sought; c) there is a reason for instituting proceedings against a citizen of an administrative offense.

If a police officer introduces the background and purpose of his treatment, you can submit the documents for review, but remember that you have the right to not transfer the documents into the hands of the police officer, so that he can’t hold you there.

If you don’t have a document confirming the legality of your stay in Russia with you, remember that in this regard you can only be delivered to one place–the office of the Federal Migration Service. And only the FMS service has the right to deliver you there.

What if you are stopped by a police officer, but you don’t speak Russian?

In this case, the first thing you must do is to inform a police officer, in any way obvious to him, that you will need an interpreter to continue the conversation. A police officer cannot refuse it, and until an interpreter arrives, is not entitled to provide any documents to be signed, or to ask for any explanation and so on.

When you ask for an interpreter to be provided and for the police officer to introduce and present official identification, it may have another effect: it will make the police officer understand that he is dealing with a person who knows his rights and that will significantly reduce the degree of his fault-finding for you.

While waiting for an interpreter you can call your friends, relatives or just friends to inform them about the meeting with the police so that they can subsequently be a witness by your side.


I urge you to always remember that the Russian Constitution in Article 62 equates the status of a foreign citizen and a citizen of the Russian Federation in terms of rights and duties, except as required by federal law or international treaty of the Russian Federation.

In addition, Article 51 of the Constitution gives you the right in any situation to not testify against yourself, your spouse and close relatives.

Be extremely careful while reading the documents that you are given to sign, use the help of an interpreter, and sign it only with the full understanding of the content of the document.

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What if you doubt that the actions of the police were legitimate?

If you disagree with anything in regards to the actions of the police–complain. According to the Order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation from 15.08.2012, № 795 an apology to the citizen of the Russian Federation, foreign citizens and stateless persons whose rights and freedoms have been violated by a police officer, should be offered by a police officer, who violated the rights and freedoms of the citizen, or his chief. Apologies should be offered at the location (residence), work or school, in accordance with the person’s wishes, following the consideration of complaints of rights violations.

Always remember about your human rights and the existence of the Law “On Police”, Article 5 of which states that “the police carries out its activities on the basis of compliance with and respect for the rights and freedoms of man and citizen.”

We hope you only face decent police on your way and if you don’t, now you know what to do.

About Demetrius 10 Articles
Russophile in denial.

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