The Russian Militsia "Do you have a present ?"

They are in bus stations,
they are in train stations,
they are at the granitsa**,
and they like their vodka.

* militsia = police (not militia)
** granitsa = border

Who are they ? Tramps ?... no.
Alcoholics ?... well, may be.
Annoying people ?... oh yes for sure... (most of the time at least).

and you are a walking dollar ....

You don't need to look for them, they find you. They ask to see your passport, your visa, your immigration card (see previous story) and your visa registration. Then, they say something is not right....and the fun starts.

- Note : I should say that I did not register my visa anywhere since I was not staying more than 3 days in one place (see previous story for details). Also, I only had 3 stamps on the immigration card because I was not always at a hotel and not all were putting the stamp on that precious piece of paper. Also, before you ask yourself, note that all places below are in the south of Russia.

On the road between Astrakhan and Elista, there is a checkpoint before entering the Kalmyk Republic. The bus stopped. The policeman looked at my passport, a bit surprised to see a foreigner. He asked me to come along to sign a register in his office, which was a small sort of hut on the roadside, sticking out on the flat steppe. He took out a thick folder, asked where I come from, where I am going, what's my job, and took my name on a piece of paper, not even in his register. Then he asked for a "franzuski podarok", a "french present". I pretended not to understand "a present ? what kind, a photo ?". He did not insist. Obviously, the purpose of taking me to his "office" was may be to avoid asking for a present in front of the other passengers, and also to intimidate me. But that did not work : sometimes, I don't understand Russian, sorry mate.

In Elista, I went in the evening to the small bus and train station to enquire about departure times for next day. Too late, enquiry windows were closed, but the police was still "working". So again, they ask for my passport. I pretended it was at the hotel, and as they figured I was foreign, they started asking where I am from, what I am doing here, where I'd been in Russia, where I was going, etc.. and also what is my job. As I mentioned computers, they said "oh we have one, it has a problem, come". So I followed them to their office. They indeed had a PC with Windows XP on it and one of them was playing Tactical Ops on it. For those who don't know, this is a game where you have to shoot around and kill some other guys. As a friend said, he was not playing, he was training.... He started talking about computers, processors etc... and then we talked about where I should go on the Black Sea coast. They recommended Gelendjik rather than Anapa. As we spoke, a small window came up on the screen : " critical error"... Ha ha ha.. (PS : I worked for Apple back then). Fortunately, he did not ask me to sort it out. Then before I left them, they said "town can be dangerous at night, don't walk alone, pay a girl a stay in your hotel, it's safer". This was the only time the militsia did not ask for anything. Friendly funny bunch they were...

From Maikop to Krasnodar, I took a shared taxi (big Volga, engine roaring at 120 kph), and the militsia stopped it at the "post" (checkpoint) just before entering Krasnodar. Same thing again, something is not right : "where is your registration?". I explained "... not 3 days in one city ...", and proposed to show train and bus tickets as well as hotel receipts to prove it. Obviously this takes time, and the taxi wanted to move on. So the militsia said the taxi could go and they'd help me get on a bus to Gelendjik as it would pass through the checkpoint anyway. Once they saw my tickets, they told me "good, but don't loose them, otherwise, you'll be fined". Then they also asked for "a present", making sign of money. Again I said I pretended not to understand "I don't have presents, my bag is already big". Then they very naturally said "present, french money, we want to buy vodka or tequila". Fortunately, they were laughing and did not insist. They eventually got me on a bus.

The last day in Russia, they were not so cool. In Novorossisk, the militsia guy at the bus station seemed extremely bored and depressed. I gave the same speech like in Krasnodar, but he said "they don't know, I do, and they were wrong : you need registration after 3 days in russia, no matter how long you stay in one place". He started talking about taking me to the main militsia station in town, to pay a fine etc... I started complaining about the rules being uncleared, how can I know, and now I am tired and I have a sore neck because of non-stop travelling, as I cannot stop more than 3 days in one place, and it's a lot of bus.... blah blah blah... Then he looked even more bored than earlier, he pointed at my bag : " you have some french cognac in there ?". I said no. He gave me my passport back and said : "you can go, you're free".

Finally, same day, I am leaving Russia from Port Kavkaz by ferry to Port Krim in Ukraine. First control in the bus before the ferry port : only a stupid question : " are you leaving Russia ?". Well yes obviously, why would I come to Port Kavkaz otherwise, to look at the birds ? Then, second control before the actual passport stamp. And this militsia invented yet another rule : "you need a hotel stamp every 3 days minimum on your immigration card, and you have been 4 days without one now". Total bullshit of course. Especially since there was 10 days between the 2 first stamps and he was just pointing at the time between the last one and that day. I tried again to discuss, but with a ferry going in 15 min, an urge to be in Ukraine (no hassle there), it's a bit short. He said I will have to pay a fine of minimum 1000 Rubbles (30 €). I said I don't have 1000 Rubbles. He said "how much do you have ?". I said I had 500 (15 €). In fact I had 700 Rubbles on me, one note of 500 and two notes of 200. He said "good, give me, we've never talked, you've never seen me". It may look like I got away not too bad by paying this bribe, less than the fine, but that's not right. I did get ripped off, the rule he said is bullshit. But it would have costed me more to miss the ferry.

Conclusion : I left Russia with an impression than their police is a bunch of corrupt alcoholics (with exception of the guys in Elista). Friends in Russia said if you overspeed make some mistake, you don't pay a fine, you just give money to the policeman. For them, it's either : do you pay a fellow individual or do you pay the state. They'd rather pay an fellow countryman of course. In Georgia, they have moved forward and they fight corruption. You see signs on the road in english : "if the police asks for money, call this number..". In Ukraine, they completely renewed the police and they never bothered me. They might need a strong police presence in the North-Caucasus as this region not so stable, but with the kind of police they have there, you might wonder ...

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