Aleksey Moskalev, who escaped from house arrest in the Tula region on the night of March 28, was detained in Minsk. Presumably, he was able to figure out due to the fact that he turned on his phone. As the coordinator of the Vyvozhuk initiative, which helps victims of political persecution flee the country, told The Insider, mobile phone tracking is the most effective tool for finding people of all available to the security forces in Russia and Belarus.
“The FSB and the KGB can geolocate a phone with an accuracy of an apartment. This is the only most effective tool that the special services use. No electronic bracelet, no SORM <System of technical means for ensuring the functions of operational-search activities - The Insider> do not work so effectively. It's a matter of two minutes - you get the exact coordinates, they are sent to the capture task force, and the task force moves into place, and finding an apartment is not difficult. This happens often, unfortunately. Often those who are fleeing political persecution interact incorrectly with phones, turn them on, log into personal accounts, call old numbers, and all this is quickly tracked.”
On the day when it became known about Moskalev's escape, the ex-editor of Channel One Marina Ovsyannikova, who had previously escaped from house arrest and managed to leave Russia, said that she knew the people who were helping him, and that he was "in safe hands."
“This is just unprofessional. None of those who really help and are included in the process will ever talk about the fact that an evacuation is being carried out until it is completed, because the result remains unknown until the last. It is not safe. After the escape, instructions began to appear in several Telegram channels on where to escape from Russia, how to illegally cross the borders, and this was done by respected big media. It is impossible to reveal the routes, although we are aware that the FSB, the KGB of Belarus and the National Security Committee of Kazakhstan are well aware of these routes. Our initiative has a ban on the disclosure of any routes, details and departure details by the wards. This is important, because if you work systematically, then you need to work quietly.
Most of our team does not know at all who, when and where they are going and what kind of people they are, and where they came from. A couple of people are dedicated to this, who are taken out of the country. All we can do is reduce the risks. But when it comes to Dmitry Peskov and Yevgeny Prigozhin, there is little we can do.
I don’t think that it was this factor that led to [Moskalev’s] arrest, but the fact that the evacuation was told at the beginning, that there was such attention from both the federal and liberal media, this contributes to an increase in risks and a loss of control over the situation. We have been working systematically for the last year thanks to the fact that we are silent as much as possible. We carefully give comments, we do not reveal anything. This is important for us, but these are our security protocols, and this does not mean that everyone works according to them. Everyone works differently, everyone has different security protocols, everyone has their own cybersecurity protocols. I do not think that Marina Ovsyannikova was somehow deeply involved here. It's just chasing hype, headlines and being a person who knows some secret information. We are very glad that after a year of our and not only our work and the systematic organization of an escape from Russia, they began to write and talk about this, but the way they began to write and talk is terrible.
Of course, it was not the liberal media that sent the KGB to the place where Aleksey was hiding. The state had to show that “we will not let him go and will catch him at any cost,” which they did. In our practice, it has never happened before that the KGB of Belarus reacted in a couple of hours and came with a raid. It happens that Russian special services do this while on the territory of Belarus, but the very fact of how it was done suggests that no tweets and federal media would have done anything here. This issue was resolved in high offices between the FSB and the KGB quickly and efficiently, and then it was just a matter of technology and the expectation of a human factor: for example, turning on the phone - geolocation and coordinates.
However, the very rhetoric that the media uses, what a reality show has made of it, is a very bad and harmful practice. We ask the media to be very careful about information, especially if you do not have expertise in this area. No need to write endless memos and routes. We've spent a huge amount of time making these routes less obvious."
Running abroad on your own is not safe and there is little chance of success
“You don’t need to run yourself and you don’t need to make such mistakes as: buying a ticket, using your own phone, or telling someone from relatives or neighbors that you are going to run. In principle, one cannot speak about one's desire to leave the country, because we cannot rule out wiretapping of phones or bugs. Contact organizations that systematically deal with evacuation.
The purchase of a ticket is registered in the Rozysk-Magistral system, which acts like a clock. As soon as you bought a ticket within Russia for any of the modes of transport, which involves the transfer of passport data, you got into this database. This database has a Surveillance Control subsystem that keeps track of those people who are under monitoring, be it a criminal case or opposition activists. It has been actively used since 2014. For this reason, many times the same Pussy Riot had problems crossing the border: Masha Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. Everything is perfectly visible at the airport, where and how you lit up. It is necessary to discuss everything very carefully and in detail with human rights activists who are involved in the evacuation. A year has passed since the start of the war, there are enough such initiatives and enough people, there are more and more of them.
Russia has a well-thought-out system of control and surveillance of people. There is the SORM system, which was created back in the late 1990s - first to listen to phone calls, then to track Internet requests, and then - all bank transfers. All this information is available to FSB officers and those services that promptly respond to escapes, so no communication by phone, no old phones. If you have a phone that was in the hands of the police, and you changed the SIM card in it, then this will not help. If you bought a new phone and put the old SIM card in there, then this also does not work. If your new device was close to the old one, then it is not safe either. This is a very subtle thing, which is best discussed with those who are ready to help you. Now a new bill has been adopted at the initiative of the FSB that all IMEI phones will be collected in a single database. IMEI is a unique identifier of your phone, by which special services are able to calculate you with an accuracy of a couple of tens of meters in real time. The telephone is a very big danger, wiretapping of phones in the form of SORM is also dangerous.
There is also the FSSP database, which concerns witnesses and those who, for example, have unpaid fines. Enforcement proceedings are brought against you for non-payment of a fine, sometimes they are specifically hung on you so that you do not leave the country. You will not be detained at the border if you are not under criminal investigation, but you will also not be released from the country until you pay this fine. Databases in Russia are updated for a very long time, the process can take weeks. You paid a fine today for not being allowed out, but for another two weeks you will be standing at the border until the base is updated.
There is also a federal wanted list and an interstate wanted list. The federal wanted list is operational-search activities on the territory of Russia, but if it is known that a person has crossed the border and is in another country, then a separate paper is written to put the person on the interstate wanted list, which works in all EAEU countries: in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia , Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and other countries that have diplomatic relations with Russia. Thailand recently said it would extradite people to Russia upon request. It's less dangerous because you only get to the base after three days, so you have time to do something. You will not cross the border of the Russian Federation if you are wanted. We need to contact human rights activists. Do not make sudden movements - do not run headlong to Kazakhstan. It might work, but most likely it won't.
As for the bases of Russia and Belarus, we know that citizens of Belarus who are not allowed to travel abroad and have business in their homeland become restricted to travel abroad in Russia after three days. The bases of Belarus and Russia are synchronized in a few days, in the opposite direction everything works a little more complicated and takes longer.
If you crossed the border yourself, you still have to surrender to the local border guards and go to the migration service. The European Union treats illegal crossing as badly as possible, international human rights protection will never work with this, because it is a criminal article. We are working and continue to work to ensure that people who have been subjected to criminal prosecution do not flee the forests, but calmly travel legally, and that they are received in that country and provided with everything necessary, including documents. Therefore, contact human rights organizations.”
“You can’t write about someone crossing the border illegally. Moreover, it is impossible to write that someone helps him in this. This is illegal not only in the Russian Federation, but also in the EU. If a person ever let slip that a particular person helped him, and this person is in Europe, then he will face criminal prosecution. There is an article on illegal immigration in all legislations.
You can’t take an old phone with you, no matter how important information is stored on it, no matter how dear it is to you and no matter how expensive it is. Get yourself a clean phone, buy a new SIM card, do not bring your old phone to a new one, do not keep them together, write down the necessary contacts on a piece of paper and contact those with whom you need to use the new phone. There should not be any old accounts either, everything is new. No calls to old phones, no social networks, no personal accounts and logins to personal social networks. Everything must be as clean as possible.
The hard part is that there is never a second chance. If you do not use your chance to the maximum, then you go to jail. This one chance can't guarantee you anything. The fact that Aleksey got out of the city is a very good job, it is very respected by our team that he managed to pull off such an escape when he was guarded under the windows.