Russian Visa Forms


June 24, 2003, 12:59 PM
Hey gang!

I wanted to throw this out to the group, to see what people thought. Soon, my wife & I will be traveling to Russia to start the process rolling to pick up our adopted daughters. (YAY!)

In revenge for some new INS form, _some_ countries have, in a tit for tat manner, insisted that American males 14-45 fill out a similiar form in return. It's lengthy, but the 2 items that pop up are:

Q: Do you have any specialized skills or training, including firearms, explosives, nuclear, biological, or chemical experience?

Q: List all professional, social, and charitable orgs to which you belong (belonged) etc...

So, whaddya think? Listing civilian ccw training and NRA membership gonna be a problem?

I'm thinking I can skip NRA, on the argument its a political (as opposed to social, professional or charitable) org.....

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Bartholomew Roberts
June 24, 2003, 01:19 PM
My advice would be to skip both entries and leave them blank or answer "no". Unless you have some special status that would cause you to be targeted by intelligence agencies, they have no idea what skills you have or to which groups you belong.

The only things filling out those slots are going to do is:

A) Volunteer information about yourself that they may decide to collect and record

B) Flag your visa for possible bureaucratic hassle that is likely not even relevant to you

Remember, the Russians coined the word aparatchik for a reason and whenever a bureaucrat is confronted with a judgement call (Is a CHL really relevant to what this form wants to know) they are going to exercise the safest career option for them (deny visa or give you special attention upon arrival).

Listing those things might not be a problem; but not listing them is definitely not going to cause problems.

June 24, 2003, 01:21 PM
Unless you qualify otherwise or if you picked up specialized firearms training, I'd answer the first question as no if you have normal firearms training or even a CCW permit. Most US residents/citizens can get firearms and training if they haven't been too bad :D How unusual or difficult is getting a blaster's permit in the US?

I'd count the NRA as a political organisation. Your neighborhood hunting club (assuming you do organised hunts) would be another matter. After all, how often do you visit the NRA?

IANAL and all that. Have fun with the girls and here's hoping your sleep and sanity levels stay normal. :D

ErikM :evil:

George Hill
June 24, 2003, 01:24 PM
Don't make any statements...
This isn't the time for politics.

Get in.
Get your girls.
Get out.
Low profile extraction mission.

Then when you get back... post some pictures.

Congratulations... that is awesome!

Henry Bowman
June 24, 2003, 01:56 PM
As a proud parent of two children by adoption, I say . . . Congrats!!! :D

I recently (early April) visited Moscow, Russia. I also, determined that NRA, GOA, OFCC, SAF, etc. did not warrant disclosure. Unless you have SPECIALIZED training that could be proven (like military), just say no. You will not have any problems. The whole visa thing is just a revenue raising sceme for Russia

Please PM me if you want to discuss. Posting pics is mandatory!

4v50 Gary
June 24, 2003, 02:21 PM
I'd answer no to both. Besides, isn't this info shared with the secret police?

Partisan Ranger
June 24, 2003, 02:29 PM
After 3 years of living in Russia and dealing with countless bureaucratic headaches largely caused by my very American tendency to play by the rules, if I learned anything it was this:

Lie to the Russian government.

There is a a direct relationship between how honest you are with them and how large your hassle will be. I once spent 10 hours in a Russian tax office on the other side of town waiting for the honor of paying a $100 tariff on a camcorder my parents sent me because they were honest on the customs form regarding the value of the thing. The tax Nazi, a Russian government official, told us my parents should have lied on the form.

June 24, 2003, 02:53 PM
Partisan Ranger sums it up nicely...

Lie to the Russian government.

Experience indicates that they expect, if not want, you to anyway.

Partisan Ranger
June 24, 2003, 03:37 PM
...and I know how that sounds to American ears. Most people would never dream of descending to the level of lies and deceit I did when I lived in Russia. But the Russian government is so freaking unreasonable, honest people have no choice but to do things that are technically illegal.

I once had to pay the mafia to get my visa registered with AVIR or OVIR or whatever they call it. It was physically impossible to register within 3 days and I knew I'd get hassled when leaving the country. $50 to the mafia got me registered in an hour.

Henry Bowman
June 24, 2003, 03:41 PM
PR - the going rate is now only US$30! :D

June 24, 2003, 07:39 PM
This is pretty much what I thought, I mainly wanted to get a reality check.

What they don't know won't hurt me. :)

I've always been a bit too damned scrupulous, but this sounds like one of those rare times where scruples serve no one.

Alan Smithiee
June 24, 2003, 10:17 PM
also expect any info you give them to be shared with US agencies

(Paranoid?? Yes, but more and more it looks like RM Ashcroft got his training in the Soviet Union)

June 24, 2003, 11:39 PM
everyone pretty much summed it up. when i went to russia, although it was a few years ago, the less attention you drew to yourself, the better; whether it be attention from the gov't OR the mafia. believe me, you will be able to tell who's mafia and who isn't. i hope a lot of what everyone has said doesn't scare you, because russia is not too bad of a place to visit....well, st petersburg wasn't. moscow is kind of a "dirty cosmopolitan city." anyway! have fun and show us some pics!

Henry Bowman
June 25, 2003, 09:40 AM
Good luck! Travel safe and enjoy those new blessings!

June 25, 2003, 10:59 PM
Sounds like a heck of a trip. I really want to go to Russia, and China. Have a great time, and stay safe.

June 26, 2003, 05:15 PM
Here's my Russian story:

My friend volunteered for a one-year term in Moscow working for some charity organization. He traveled all the way to Russia with his beaten-up Volkswagen Rabbit.

When he arrived he soon found out that driving a car with western license plates in Moscow only serves to attract hungry unpaid traffic cops. The "militsiya" would stop him every couple of days for running over a red light (even when there wasn't a traffic light within 3 k's) and threaten to confiscate his driberäs license.

According to the ritual he had to ask if he could pay a fine instead. The cop would pretend to think about until my friend told him that he didn't need any receipt. The officer would then smile and ask my friend to sit down in the squad car wher he paid his "fine" of about 5 or 10 €.

But after a short time my friend's knowledge of the Russian language and customs had grown, and he decided that things had gotten way too expensive. From then on he would always refuse to pay and argue for half an hour with the cop instead. Eventually they got bored and looked for an easier customer. However, my friend soon reversed his decision because now it would eat up his time instead of his salary.

In the end he sold the car (which was almost as hold as him and totally wrecked) for an outrageous amount of money.

I visited him three years ago and found out that Russia is a really fascinating country despite all her flaws. I'm definitely planning to go back there someday.



Partisan Ranger
June 26, 2003, 05:33 PM
Russia is wonderful in many ways. Totally, utterly corrupt and mafia run, but weirdly enough, there is an amazing amount of freedom there that Americans can only dream about.

Want to drink openly on the street in the summer white nights with your friends? Russia is the place for you!

Want to light a campfire in the woods anywhere you want? Russia is for you!

Want to fish without a license? Russia is the place!

Can't get a government office to do something you need? Go to the local mafia thugs at the central market and ask around. For a price, they can do just about anything (see my visa registration story above).

Oh, the mafia in Ukraine also helped me get back into Russia - I made the mistake of going to Ukraine without a visa. A mafia thug hung out at the information window at the train station in Khvost and heard my plight. $60 got me back into Russia.

Partisan Ranger
June 26, 2003, 06:02 PM
You all might be interested in this article I wrote about my times in Russia. It's also on my Web site (link in my signature).

A Charming Socialist Ruin

"Socialism proposes no adequate substitute for the motive of enlightened selfishness that today is at the basis of all human labor and effort, enterprise and new activity." - William Howard Taft

It isn't the vodka that can be purchased at any corner kiosk for 30 rubles ($1) per bottle. It's not the free flow of wine, liquor, and beer at every social occasion. It isn't even that one can drink openly on the street. It's personal relationships that make Russian life so intoxicating.

Russians are a friendly bunch - both the weather and their lives are harsh beyond the comprehension of most Americans. Russians cope by adding a degree of warmth and kindness to their personal relationships that is pleasant surprising. Most of them love Americans, and all that friendliness can be as inebriating as a shot of Absolut on an icy January evening. They want to drink with you and toast your health until you are decidedly unhealthy, add inches to your waistline with fatty food, regale you with antecdotes, have you over for 6 hour dinner parties and dancing, introduce you to their friends' daughters; if you're lucky, you'll stumble home by midnight. Russians cannot be beaten for sheer, unabashed hospitality; it almost makes an American wonder what is wrong with America. Americans are just so….busy and occupied, no time for friends. Why can't we Yanks loosen up? Russia is so much more fun.

I once thought that way; after all, Russia was college redux - a 3 year kegger, a drinker's paradise where beer is legally considered a soft drink, and a warm, pleasant break from the working world (I 'worked' in Russia, but didn't really work). It was so much fun I almost forgot about the obnoxious store clerks who resented having to work for payment, open manholes, decaying buildings, power surges, exploding light bulbs, ankle-shattering bus doors (no safety mechanisms, of course!), government offices open 3 hours per day, ruble crashes that devastate life savings in one day, butter lines, mind-numbingly incompetent government bureaucrats who won their cushy jobs through family connections, unheated buses in -25 degree temperatures, medieval medical care, hot water shut offs in the summer, astounding levels of public drunkenness - a stagnant, hopeless society sometimes breeds terrorists, but more often breeds alcoholism (many drunks resort to guzzling 5 ruble bottles of window cleaner to fuel their addiction), the hideous rape of the environment, doctors of medicine being paid in sausage, undrinkable water, trash strewn everywhere, lazy workers, aggressive document checks, not to mention about 5 million killed by famine. And so on. They are so nice and fun-loving, I thought to myself, so why aren't the roads graded so giant pools of water don't form in the middle of the road when the snow melts? Basically, what the hell happened to this place?

Socialism happened. The oil that greases the engine of Western civilization - incentive and reward - was removed by the Marxist, social engineering meddlers in the Politburo. The result was chaos, which I lived in the heart of from 1996-99. I came to realize that the Soviet system of government created one of the most dysfunctional societies ever devised, a veritable living laboratory of twisted, statist thinking. Nothing in the country functioned normally - phones and cars, for example, were always questionable and not to be relied upon (this is particularly grating for Westerners - you see modern conveniences like at home, but they don't work). Virtually no aspect of Russia escaped the ravages of this thoroughly rotted, stinking system that guarantees everyone equality - in poverty and misery.

For a perfect example of the warped nature of socialist engineering, look no further than the first-floor flat that I called home for three years in Perm, an industrial city of 2 million in the heart of Russia's Ural region. The building I lived in was a 10 story, Brezhnev-era prefabricated, red and white crumbling apartment block that resembled thousands of others that mar the beautiful pine tree-studded Russian steppe from Moscow to Vladivostock. Any buildings constructed during the Soviet era were government-built. They were all alike, and all shared the same poor quality and workmanship that negligibly paid workers with no incentives inevitably churn out, slowly, slowly, to perfection.

The poor workmanship of my building highlights one of the most unfortunate byproducts of socialism - a ravaged work ethic. With no possibility of reward, people do not work. Many Russians actually resent people who work hard and gain good things for themselves. I once knew a teacher who won a scholarship to the United States. When I learned of it, I naturally shared the good news with others. My teacher friend was horrified when he found out I had talked about it He urged me not to tell anyone else - a jealous coworker might attempt to sabotage his invitation to America. Socialism sowed the poisonous seed of jealousy in the heart of millions.

In my building, like most in Russia, everyone was assigned an apartment in which to live in the Soviet era, the size of the place depending upon how many were in one's immediate family. A healthy illegal industry sprouted for people who wanted to skirt the law and get a bigger apartment. Black markets and disrespect for the law are other unfortunate byproducts of socialism. If government encroaches on people's ability to exercise their free will, human nature finds ways around it.

Stepping inside the entrance door, around trash from the overflowing, stinking garbage chute (seldom emptied), to the cement floor corridor on the first floor, I frequently fumbled in the dark for my key. It was dark because the single naked light bulb in the corridor either burned out and wasn't replaced, or was stolen by thieves. The door to my flat was hollow particle board and the lock was a poor joke. An old lady on a bad day could have kicked it in. Eventually, like most Russians, I had a massive steel door installed at my expense. In a universally poor society, crime is rampant. One acquaintance who lives in a small, dying town north of Perm, couldn't have a telephone installed because thieves stole the phone lines and sold them on the black market.

Opening the steel door revealed my 500 square-foot flat, which contained a living room/bed room, kitchen, toilet and bathroom. On Russian standards, it was spacious for one person; I counted myself lucky to have a flat, any flat, to call my own. Many of my friends struggled to find places to live. Some lived in dorms, a lucky few could afford their own flats, but most still lived with their parents in their cramped flats. Apartments in major Russian cities cost thousands of dollars to purchase, and mortgages are virtually nonexistent. Cash only, please!

In the living room, the plaster was cracked, the blue wallpaper peeling, the wood floor badly worn and faded. Being a first floor apartment, the flooring lacked insulation underneath. Ice often formed on the floorboards in the dark, brutally cold heart of winter. The steam radiator on the wall was turned on by the city in November and turned off in May. The temperature? Hot. If I became warm, I threw open the double-paned windows. I often wondered about how many millions of dollars were wasted each winter by the city government in the highly inefficient process of providing this 'free' service. If I became cold, I fired up my German space heater, which heated my entire living room to T-shirt-and-shorts comfort levels. The single light bulb overhead had an unfortunate tendency to explode during the frequent power surges, showering my bed with flying glass.

Stepping across the chilly floorboards and into the kitchen, my tiny sink was in the left corner. There was no hot water during the summer months ('routine maintenance'), which made washing dishes interesting. The gas stove had a universal gas line that ran through the kitchen of every flat in my block. This meant that there was no way to shut off the gas to individual apartments in case of nonpayment. If there are no repercussions for not paying your gas bill (such as not being able to cook), will you pay the bill? Many Russians chose not to, being human beings governed by human nature. Thus, the gas provider (the state) routinely didn't receive the revenue it needs, and other services suffered. This goes on all over Russia.

The bathroom and toilet functioned fairly well, although no hot water in the summer made washing clothes in the tub more of a challenge. Once I had to have a leaking pipe repaired. After waiting about 3 weeks to get an appointment with the area's only plumber, he fixed it for a hefty fee. In their wake, they left broken plaster, an inch of water on the floor, boot tracks on my carpet, and not a word of apology. The same happened when I had my steel door installed and bars on the windows. The workers left a mess. In a country where free enterprise and competition is almost unheard of, services one pays for are generally done poorly and at high cost. In a free enterprise system, there is a choice: Do quality work or your customers will have someone else do it. This, of course, enhances the performance of most in that line of work. In a Russian town, there's one plumber, one guy to install doors and security bars, and you're lucky to get appointments with them. Quality is not their number one priority.

Through it all, Russia was fun, the booze was cheap and plentiful, and I made many dear friends. That said, the 'equality' of socialism wrecked the country, and it will take decades more for its troubled citizenry to leave that past behind. When I left Russia behind, I mourned the loss of my friends, but I celebrated being free of the wreckage of a failed political system in its death throes.

I returned to America - and a modern apartment - with a profoundly deeper appreciation for the principles on which our country was founded in 1776 - freedom, human rights, individual liberty, and free enterprise. I don't have as many friends here, true enough, and my social calendar isn't nearly as full, but I can live with that.

No amount of drinking buddies, parties, alcohol, social engineering or five-year plans can match the mighty engine of the unchained human spirit.

June 26, 2003, 08:05 PM
This is possibly the most accurate description of modern Russia that I have ever read. I'm welling up thinking about the friends that I made during my short time there. Well done.

June 27, 2003, 12:41 PM
Partisan Ranger: I wonder how much of what you observed was due to the Russian brand of socialism and how much was do to the Russian way of doing things, ie., everything is top down. From what I know of the Imperial past things weren't much different.

September 10, 2003, 01:22 PM
I think this picture, taken outside of the orphanage, pretty much says it all.

From left to right:


Partisan Ranger
September 10, 2003, 02:49 PM
Cool, congratulations! Did you get hassled at the airport taking two Russian kids out of the country, or did you have an interpretor to deal with that? We got into a mini-hassle when we took my wife's son out. The passport Nazis said we needed a decision from the court to take him out. They didn't understand that he is my wife's son, we weren't adopting him. We talked our way out of it though. I always loathed that passport line, and that airport in general.

September 10, 2003, 03:08 PM
Partisan Ranger:

Lutheran Social Services runs a tight ship, and we had interpreters available everytime we came into contact with officials for any reason. The passport folks didn't give us any hassles at all, and even if they did, I had the court order & all associated papers in my back pocket. ;)

BTW, the fact that there is a passport line to LEAVE a country says a whole lot about that place, don't you think?

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