While the Cold War may be over, the animosity between Russia and the United States has thawed out a bit, but tensions never really dissipated. With the events of the past couple of weeks, including President Donald Trump ordering an attack on a Syrian air base after a nasty chemical attack, things are about as heated as they've been in decades. Anti-Russian hysteria isn't nearly as prevalent as it once was, but there are still stereotypes out there ranging from jokes like "all Russians are bears on unicycles" to "the Russians are coming to take over and kill us all".
While most Russian stereotypes are either overblown, half-truths (rare) and of course, complete fabrications, there is some truth to the idea that things are still done a bit differently throughout Russia. The culture is significantly different, Russians and Americans have some very contrasting values (generally), and within the United States, whether you're at the movies or playing video games, Russians are still the bad guys in many corners of pop culture. They're often mafia affiliates, murderers, involved in other forms of nefarious criminal activity, or just generally unsavory characters.
One of the most significant differences between the United States and Russia is the topic of crime and punishment. Crime is one of the most interesting (and unfortunate) facts of life, and rather than just examining the regulations and demographics relating to crime, comparing how different nations deal with it is something else altogether. While most people have at least some idea of what offenses are prevalent in the United States and how punitive measures are handed out, Russia is a different ball game altogether. Here are fifteen of the most shocking facts about crime in Russia.
15 Crime Stats May Not Be Trustworthy
During the Soviet period, crime was considered low, because police were, nearly literally everywhere, surveillance was rampant and people were genuinely terrified. The crime that did exist was often dealt with swiftly and brutally, and of course, like a good dictatorship would, stats were heavily doctored when they were released.
These days, this trend still persists. The Russian government is taking steps to rectify this, but many international scholars who study crime will argue that violent crime stats are largely fraudulent in Russia, with officials doctoring documents and information to hide far higher numbers of certain serious offenses.
14 Prison Conditions and Tuberculosis
In some western nations, prison sounds unpleasant but not quite as nightmarish as someone might think. Many countries are on the path to switch from punitive prisons to rehabilitative programs in which people are treated well and reformed, rather than just locking people up in miserable cages. Well, Russia only recently caught on to this whole "treat prisoners with a shred of dignity" thing. For many years overcrowding was a huge problem and partially because of this, tuberculosis, and multi-drug resistant tuberculosis are both problems. Study of this epidemic in Russian prisons started over a decade ago, but the problem still persists.
13 Human Trafficking Remains a Problem
Russia has made some progress in terms of cracking down on their human trafficking problem, but in the eyes of the international community, they have not done nearly enough. Many people from Asia and other states in the former Soviet Union are brought into Russia for the purpose of cheap labor and essentially kept in conditions of slavery. Child sex slavery is also a problem in large cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, and is primarily supported by Western tourism.
The problem is being dealt with but the results are slow. Many police departments are slow to act on these types of crimes, and often they are paid off by the syndicates that orchestrate these trafficking operations. On top of this, reports seem to point to the fact that there just aren't a lot of cops allocated to combating this issue.
12 More Than Double The U.S. Murder Rate
The map we featured above is from 2010, and the numbers featured reflect the homicide rate per 100,000.
Earlier on this list we discussed how it has been suggested that government officials intentionally misrepresent the prevalence of certain crimes. With regard to the most severe of all crimes, homicide, official reports indicate that the homicide rate in Russia is around 9 people per 100,000. The real rate is widely considered to be significantly, and possibly several times higher and some have suggested that Russia's murder rate is among the highest in the world. But with this in mind, what is important to point out is that even the number that the Russian government is willing to publish is quite high compared to the United States, where the rate of homicide has been below five people per 100,000 for most of the last decade.
11 Russians and Firearms
When people in North America think of Russia, things like vodka, hockey, cold, formerly communist, and possibly pop culture villains, may be the first words to come to mind. Somewhere down the list would be AK-47. The country isn't known for guns necessarily, but given their history, it would make sense that many Russians may be armed, but that simply isn't the case. According to Russian and American statistics, there are believed to be around 9 million firearms privately owned in the country. This is about nine guns per hundred people, while the United States has more firearms than people. Russians are allowed to own firearms for hunting, and in some cases, since 2014, have been allowed to purchase firearms for self-defense, but pistol ownership and any weapon that fires either automatic or with a burst mode is illegal for civilian ownership.
But will you look at that, Russia has at least double the homicide rate of the United States but less than a tenth of the firearms per person.
10 Inmate/Suspect Treatment Is Vile
Remember earlier when we mentioned drug resistant tuberculosis and its prevalence within Russian prisons? Well, if TB doesn't kick your a** in Russian prison or jail during an arrest, it is fairly likely that one of the guards might! Think of everything you've heard about American police and prison guard misbehavior and consider this: the Russian equivalents are significantly worse. Beatings while in police custody are common and torture is not uncommon at all. The fact that quotas are used in policing in Russia has also led to extreme interrogation tactics that have notoriously led to many documented cases of false confessions. Human rights lawyers have said that there is likely no end to torture being a regular technique by Russian police. Not surprisingly, investigations of officers and guards accused of such misconduct are pretty much slim to none in most cases.
9 Illegal Substances in Russia
The drug of choice for many Russians is alcohol. We'll touch on this more later, but whether it is vodka, other spirits, wine or beer, Russians like to drink. Most of their options in this department are cheap and readily available.
But as we all know, you can only drink so much before you start to feel those diminishing returns. While some stop, others go further and try to find other fixes. In Russia, cocaine, and opiate use is rampant. Cocaine and heroin have become real problems, and originated during the Soviet Union's misadventure into Afghanistan in the 1980's. In recent years, intravenous drug use has become such a trend in Russia that the country is experiencing a boom in new HIV cases.
While many Republicans in the United States likes to be "tough on drug crime", Russia is taking it to a whole new level, and even at recent UN drug-related events, the words "harm reduction" have been scoffed at by Russian officials who would prefer to just keep locking people up. While the topic of decriminalization has been brought up in the past, that discussion did not last long.
8 Cause For 1990's Massive Spike in Crime?
Many observers have argued that the fall of the Soviet Union actually caused much of the crime that has occurred in Russia in the last 25 years. There was quite a bit of unemployment and economic instability after the early 1990's and while these would be reasons for possible crime, there are other factors. Of course, among the most important considerations is whether or not Soviet crime statistics were actually representative of the reality of the situation. Furthermore, the rising trend in violent crime actually started back in the late 1970's and 1980's when the Soviet Union was still kicking. It is very likely that a combination of uncertain economic tides, lack of proper documentation prior, and of course some social upheaval after years of oppression may have been what happened.
7 Foreigners Beware
We don't want to spread a negative stereotype and say that all Russians are racist, but there is a high level of white supremacy and extreme Russian violence in the country and it sometimes erupts into violence against certain groups. While American and Western European tourists are in particular danger of becoming the victims of muggings and minor assaults in major cities, one will likely be able to steer clear of trouble by staying somewhat sober, keeping track of your surroundings and using common sense. Unfortunately for people from central Asia, northern Africa and the Middle East, most of Russia is a no-go, as these are groups that are often targeted by white nationalist groups.
6 Death Penalty is Legislated but Not Used
When we think of criminal justice in Russia, many of us may imagine, and we've already touched on this, that things may be brutal, with harsh punishments, including the death penalty, handed out like they're free. With past leaders such as Ivan the Terrible, who favored impalement among other forms of absurdly painful execution, and Joseph Stalin (among others) whose murderous leadership left tens of millions dead, it would seem that death at the hands of government was a theme in Russia. These days that is not necessarily true, and while the use of capital punishment is still codified in Russian law, it has not been carried out in over twenty years. According to polls however, more than half of all Russians consulted, wanted the death penalty to by returned to use for extreme crimes.
5 The Country's "Worst" Serial Killer
While all serial killers are repugnant and the absolute worst form of life on Earth, some are more terrifying and disgusting than others. In terms of kill count and the viciousness of his crimes however, Mikhail Popkov, commonly referred to as the Werewolf, was initially tried and convicted for 22 gruesome murders (that followed sexual assaults) and recently admitted to 59 more while in prison. These numbers bring him among the top five in the world, although the numbers for these killers are unclear, due to the fact that some pump up their own stats. But the most accepted numbers put him at third in the world, behind South American killers Luis Garavito, and Pedro Lopez, both of whom killed over 100 people.
Popkov is a former police officer who primarily targeted prostitutes, forced them to strip, and then killed them before having his way with their dead bodies. He had a wife and a child and according to her, he was a model husband and a devoted father. When he first confessed to police, he said that his intention was to rid the streets of prostitutes, and that his usual lure was to offer them a ride home in his squad car before driving them to a remote area.
4 Police Reform
Many Russians have unfavorable opinions with regard to their police. Going back to the days of the Soviet Union, police were brutal and had required little in the way of a reason to shoot or harm someone. That's communism for you. After the breakdown of that union and the significant restructuring of the Russian government that took place, the police remained largely poorly paid, undisciplined and in many cases, downright corrupt. Correcting this has become a major goal of the Russian government, as they have found that many police have turned to corruption in order to supplement their incomes.
Among the changes that have taken and are taking place are a reduction of overall personnel (weeding out the people who really don't belong), paying cops more, centralizing control and payment to the federal government rather than keeping control over police a regional issue, and more rights for detainees similar to the West, such as the right to a lawyer, a phone call, and at least knowing what violation one has been accused of.
3 Violent Drunks?
We should point out that the stereotype of Russians being heavy drinkers is well earned: as a nation, they do drink quite a bit, among the most of all nations on Earth. Russian officials have claimed that vodka consumption is a massive killer in the country, and while it is popular, many people will drink whatever is available, including beer and wine. Stories of vodka being cheaper than water in some areas during the days of the Soviet Union are apparently true, and while it is no longer the case, booze remains inexpensive and lots of Russians partake often.
Rates of violent crime began to skyrocket through the 1980's and the trend continued in the 90's and into the 2000's. As we mentioned earlier, the rate of violent crime in general has gone down according to government reports, but these are unreliable at best. What has remained constant is that when people are arrested for murder or another violent crime, more often than not they admit to having been drunk when the incident occurred
2 Why All the Dashcams?
If you spend much time on the internet, we're willing to bet that you're at least somewhat familiar with dashcam videos. These clips, usually taken from cameras mounted on the dashboards of cars, for those who are unfamiliar, often feature either strokes of luck, where someone narrowly avoids vehicular death or brutal accidents in which there was likely loss of life.
A great deal of these videos, especially a few years ago, were from Russia, where dashcams are not just popular, many Russians consider them a necessity for owning a car. As we mentioned earlier, law enforcement remains incredibly corrupt in Russia, and along with this, insurance fraud, on the part of drivers and pedestrians, is extremely widespread. To help combat both law enforcement corruption and fraud, dashcams offer an alternative form of evidence that cannot lie.
1 Weird Things Russia Has Banned
Like any government with way too much power, Russia has taken to banning certain things in recent years. More often than not, they come up with some absurd rationale for these bans and regulations, and we have no idea whether the Russian people believe these, or if they just go with the program because they are afraid of being kidnapped and tossed in prison. Here are some of the sillier things that have been banned in Russia.
Memes that make fun of ranking Russian officials have been banned. Cursing in movies, television and books has been banned. The 2015 thriller Child 44, featuring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman, has been banned as well, for depicting Russians as backward, and making the country look like Mordor, from Lord of the Rings, according to government officials. It is illegal to import western food and soap. Finally, "gay propaganda" is banned. The definition of this concept is left ambiguous, but we imagine just about any media that claims that LGBT people are normal and should not experience persecution would fit the bill.
Sources: Wired, Mirror, Gizmodo, BBC, Washington Post, Moscow Times, Vice, CNN