Russian Health & Safety – Airport Security

It’s a well known fact that Russia has historically never really put a high value on human life. During the days of the Tsar’s, peasants existed to till and toil in the land, fight at the behest of the ruling Tsar of the time in what ever latest land-grab or land dispute took his fancy this time and basically led a miserable life.

Thus, along came the October Revolution, also known as the Bolshevik Revolution (Великая Октябрьская социалистическая революция), which was driven by that motley crew of Lenin, Trotsky and Dybenko who amassed the peasants to rise up and be counted. However, not long after the death of Lenin, a paranoid Georgian by the name of Joseph Stalin came to power, replacing Lenin and thus existed for more than a decade an era of purging, gulags and forced starvation and famine.

Fast forward to today, and you’ll find, particularly amongst Russia’s ruling elite, that there is still very little focus, premise or genuine personal belief that another human’s life is worth either the same or more than ones own. And what’s worse is that the newly afluent and growing middle class are starting to take on the same lack of morals as their ruling elite. To a point that if they kill someone with their Audi Q8 or Mercedes tank, they simply pay off the family of the deceased a few thousand dollars “hush money” along with a brown envelope stuffed with rubles to to judge so as to avoid prosecution and everyone gets on with their lives. In fact, you can literally get away with murder….it just might cost you a little more.

Which brings me to the point of this essay. Which is the governments desire to paint a rosy potemkinesque picture to the electorate (and I shall use that term loosely given the recent electoral fraud which took place in March’s elections) ensuring that they are living in a safe environment. The one I’m going to pick on today is Russia’s airports.

If you’ve never travelled to Russia before, you’re in for a test of patience and will need to demonstrate your ability to count to 10 very slowly to prevent your blood from boiling with frustration. Getting off the plane is usually pain free, until you arrive at immigration, which depending on the airport and/or terminal, can take upwards of an hour.

But you’re through….out in the lovely smog, car exhaust and tobacco filled fresh air that is Russia. Now you have to go back. And this is where the hilariousness takes on its own unique and truly Russian facade. You see, you arrive in the terminal, only to come across the first of THREE (yes, count them…one two THREE) x-ray machines that you’ll have to pass through. And every X-ray machine is accompanied by the airport security stalwart, the metal detector.

I might not get so aggitated if they were manned by people actually trained in detecting something like a bomb or knife or the Chechen terrorist standing in the queue behind me. But the fact of the matter is that they are NOT. It’s usually some spotty teenager either recently graduated from one of Russia’s various security/military services, or worse….hired by some rent-a-cop security company which earns millions by paying fuck-all to these clowns who wouldn’t know a bazooka from a bowl of borsch!

Worst yet, when I actually DO set off the metal detector, I just get “wanded” and then let through, even though the wand is singing like a love-struck canary. So I make it past the front door, now I need to go to the check-in desk. But wait, what do I spy with my little eye, ah yes…it’s ANOTHER x-ray machine and it’s siamese sister the metal detector. Only this time, these people (usually manned by large, rather hairy women with bad hair and worse make-up) look like they are airport employees. And they are deeper inside the airport, so they will definitely spot that Chechen who was behind me earlier….but am not so sure about the bazooka or bowl of borsch.

The mobile phones didn’t pass muster at all with these ladies. They had to be switched on, but the bowl of borsch made it through. In fact, anything with liquids passes through unimpeded. Which begs the question about why they have an issue if I bring on something that is 150ml, rather than 100ml, yet the five bottles of Ukrainian beer in my bags and the container of Polonium 210 go unnoticed.

But before I can get to the counter, I have to pass through someone who checks my passport. They are not immigration, not from the airline and who the fuck knows why they are there. They have not grasped the concept that if I have an EU passport, that I can basically go anywhere in the Western hemisphere without a visa (as it seems this is what they are checking). So they annoy all the EU passport holders with “do you have a visa for The Netherlands?”, and then ask you why not when you reply “No, I don’t need one”. This happens each and every time I fly! With my little sticker stamped onto my passport, I am let through.

Bags checked through, boarding pass in hand, the next and final hurdles are immigration (easy) and security (AGAIN!!). When you pass immigration, the next muppet you encounter is the boarding pass checking guy (or sometimes girl). These are kids of about 18, whose sole task in life is to sit on their arse and check your boarding pass, and stamp it. Everything in Russia needs to be stamped, and the more stamps the better. They live to stamp stuff!! Sometimes though I get a kid who diligently looks at the details on my boarding pass before stamping it. My guess is that he’s a newbie, and the monotony has not yet suck in.

Lastly, I finally reach the pinnacle of Russian airport security…the final X-ray machine/metal detector combo. And here they at least look at the screen on the xray machine. At Sheremetyevo they’ve also installed one of those L3 ProVision scanners. This  thing can scan and detect all types of materials (metallic and non-metallic) such as liquids, gels, plastics, metals, powders, thin materials, ceramics. Why then when I pass through it with nothing found on my person I am frisked is beyond me. And the frisking is nothing more than a tap on my chest (one tap, and one tap only Vassily) and a tap on my back…that’s it.

But I am through and can now relax in the biz lounge safe in the knowledge that the Chechan was checking in for a different flight and the beer will make it safely home via the checked baggage.

The moronic reality of the whole charade is that it’s exactly that. After the devastating attack by a suicide bomber at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January 2011, President Medvedev announced to the press how he wanted Israeli style security implemented across Russia. Fair enough, but if you want that level of security, you have to be a) willing to pay for it, b) willing to actually TRAIN the people tasked with carrying out the security screening, and c) install enough screening points so as to avoid long delays, that are so frequently the norm in every Russian airport I’ve travelled through.

After the attack in January 2011, Medvedev fired the regional official responsible for heading the Interior Ministry’s transport administration. He said at the time, “Those who did not work properly must be punished. All officials responsible for organizing the [security] process must be brought to their senses.” Well it seems that the ceremonious scalping of a deskbound official made it look like he was doing something about the situation, but in reality nothing has changed. You still have layabout police officers milling around the terminal talking to one another, or outside sucking on their 40th cigarette of the morning, and they are as mindful and aware of their surroundings as is my dog when a bowl of food in placed in front of his nose.

Lord only knows what will come of the influx of travellers for both the Olympics in Sochi in 2014 or when Russia hosts the World Cup in 2018. I think I’ll take a vacation during those eight weeks.

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