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TIME TO COLLECT

More than 3 million Russians on the “no fly list” due to unpaid debt

REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
For Russians, a debt of less than $500 can mean losing the right to travel.
Justin Rohrlich
By Justin Rohrlich

Geopolitics reporter

About 3.4 million Russian citizens—roughly 5% of the total population—are now banned from traveling abroad due to unpaid debts, according to Russian news agency TASS, citing a spokesperson for the nation’s Federal Bailiff Service.

That’s 1.1 million more people than the 2.3 million who last year authorities prevented from leaving the country because of delinquent bank loans, traffic tickets, utility bills, fines, taxes, child support payments, and the like.

Russian law forbids those owing more than 30,000 rubles ($482) from leaving the country until their debts are settled. Overall, the Federal Bailiff Service, known by its Russian acronym FSSP, has blocked nearly 7.2 million debtors from traveling thus far in 2019. Debtors can travel “within 23 minutes” of settling up, however, FSSP chief Dmitry Aristov said at a conference last year. Previously, they were subject to a 48-hour waiting period before being allowed out again. There are occasional exceptions. In 2014, the FSSP said someone with unpaid bills could be permitted to travel, “for example, if a debtor or their relatives have to undergo treatment in another country.”

Private collection agents in Russia have been known to subject debtors to even harsher penalties for non-payment than authorities. In 2016, a debt collector in Ulyanovsk seeking repayment of a 4,000-ruble debt (about $53 at the time) threw a Molotov cocktail into the debtor’s apartment, burning the man’s two-year-old son over 40% of his body. The family had reportedly taken out the loan for medical expenses.

But debt isn’t the only thing preventing Russians from traveling. On Dec. 16, Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a new law barring officers working for the country’s security services from leaving the country for five years after they retire.

“It always was the same way, more or less,” former FSB officer Jan Neumann told Quartz. “Now it’s just more strict than it was.”

The law previously forbade only active officers from traveling, a rule put into place when Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) colonel Alexander Poteyev fled to the United States in 2010 and outed a network of sleeper agents operating in the United States and Europe. After that, Russian intelligence officers were allowed out only for medical treatment they could not get at home.

In 2014, the Ukrainian revolution led the Kremlin to issue broad restrictions on travel by members of the Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry, Federal Prison Service, Federal Drug Control Service, the Prosecutor General’s Office, Federal Bailiff Service, Federal Migration Service, and Emergency Situations Ministry, affecting about four million people.

This, former KGB officer Gennady Gudkov said in a 2018 interview with The Daily Beast, was “a sign of increasingly extreme paranoia.”

“I realize that a huge number of countries want to recruit Russian specialists today, but I am sure that nobody wants to recruit some little police sergeant or some worker, like one of my relatives, who is working at an aviation enterprise producing small insignificant parts,” Gudkov said. “He recently was banned from traveling.”

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