Known for its cold climate and love of vodka, Russia is the world’s largest nation, stretching over eastern Europe and northern Asia. It’s government may be built on corruption, but it’s a beautiful place, full of culture, heritage, and outstanding architecture. Wherever you are in the country, you’re bound to go online and you should use one of our best VPNs for Russia for protection.
There are many reasons to use a virtual private network, including getting past blocks to content such as censorship, cybercrime and surveillance, with some countries being worse than others. Take a look at our censorship in China piece as an example of one harsh regime.
Internet freedom in Russia has been declining consistently. Government agencies have wide discretion to block content with laws implemented to allow it. Anything related to the political opposition, conflict in Ukraine and LGBT community is blocked.
Some content can be blocked without obtaining a court order for good reason such as information on suicide and drugs, child sex abuse images, anything related to extremism, information about juvenile victims of crimes, and calls for public demonstrations or rallies. Other information can be blocked if the court finds it to be illegal and issues a court order.
Even then the details for what should be blocked and why are lacking proper guidelines which leads to internet service providers (ISPs) taking a wide approach to what they actually block. Failure to comply with a blocking order can result in the ISP being fined or at risk of having their license revoked and they’re advised to keep an eye on the list of banned websites.
Roskomsvoboda, a public organization that believes in internet freedom, shows that more than 10 million websites have been blocked and that 97 percent were blocked wrongfully.
In 2017, many websites were blocked that were deemed “undesirable” according to a law aimed at organizations that the Kremlin accuses of instigating political dissent.
Local ISPs were ordered to block 8,000 pirate websites in 2017. As in many countries, that was done to try to combat copyright infringement on things such as music, software, books and TV shows. The movie industry was the driving force, though.
In July 2017, Russia began blocking VPN services that enable users to access prohibited content. If the VPNs agreed to restrict their users from visiting banned websites, they could continue operating in the country.
Access to Social Media and Communication Apps
Social media and communication platforms have fallen victim as well. Secure text messaging service Telegram was blocked by a court order in April 2018 for not complying with the Yarovaya Law, which requires ISPs to provide encryption keys to the government. Plus, it has been accused of being used for terrorism.
Telegram tried to overcome the blocks, but Roskomnadzor, the agency in charge of enforcement, targeted the new hosting websites. That resulted in popular websites, such as Google Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services, being blocked, as well.
Eighteen million IP addresses belonging to leading hosting providers were blocked at one point, affecting online services for stores, banks, news websites and airlines. Many have been removed from the block list since, but it still remains large and, despite all of Russia’s efforts, Telegram is still accessible.
Other communication apps such as Zello, Line, BlackBerry Messenger and WeChat were blocked using the Federal Law on Information, Information Technology and Protection of Information. The companies had failed to register as disseminators of information, which would have allowed authorities to access their data.
LinkedIn was blocked for failing to comply with data localization rules in November 2016 because it couldn’t transfer the processing of Russian personal data to Russian territory.
In a similar story, Alexander Zharov, head of Roskomnadzor, revealed that Facebook will be inspected in late 2018, and if it fails to comply with data storage legislation, it could be blocked. To say in line with local laws, it needs to store the data of Russian users in Russian territory and remove unlawful content. Kaspersky Labs had to move some of its data centre’s because of Russia’s data laws, as you can read in our State of the Cloud piece.
Online Speech in Russia
Anything seen as provoking separatism or extremism online can be punished with a prison sentence of five years under articles 280 and 280.1 of the Russian criminal code and incitement to hatred is set at six years under article 282. Just opening a case can end with the accused added to a list of extremists.
The list is maintained by the Federal Financial Monitoring Service and anyone on it, even if not convicted, is restricted from certain professions. Their bank account can be frozen, too. The definition of extremism is broad in Russia and you could be punished for something that isn’t abusive or discriminatory.
The criminal code also covers defamation and calls for terrorism. Another set of laws, the administrative code, forbids spreading false information about the Soviet Union in WWII, displaying Nazi symbols or the symbols of other extremist organizations and spreading extremist materials.
There have been over 1,000 criminal cases for online activity, including social media posts, with 98 requiring a prison sentence. Several users have been prosecuted for expression critical of religion, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church.
A 19-year-old student was charged with inciting hate speech because he shared a post to his VK account that likened the Game of Thrones character Jon Snow to Jesus Christ. Police seized his computer and he was put on the extremist list with the possibility of a five-year prison sentence. Others have been charged for similar actions, so be careful what you post online.
LGBT activists have been punished for their online expression, as well, because it is seen as promoting nontraditional sexual relations. One was convicted and fined 50,000 Russian rubles ($755) after they shared information about a group that advocates for access to health and sexuality information.
Surveillance in Russia
Amendments to the Information, Information Technology and Protection of Information prohibit social media and communication platforms from allowing users to remain anonymous. Companies have to connect user accounts to phone numbers to link them to users’ real identities, but the implementation has been difficult.
There is also the Yarovaya Law, which gives authorities access to user data. Any website or platform that is added to the register of information-dissemination organizers must collect, store and provide users’ metadata to the Russian authorities. Our best VPN for Germany shows another country that likes to collect data.
Online communications data, including text, video and audio, must be kept for up to six months and online metadata must be stored for up to one year. Authorities can access the data without a court order.
Plus, the government uses SORM for online surveillance. It requires ISPs to install technology that allows security services to monitor internet traffic. If a provider fails to comply with SORM requirements, it could be fined or lose its license.
Best VPN for Russia 2018
What Makes a VPN the Best for Russia
There are many reasons to use a VPN in Russia and you need to make sure you choose one that is suitable. Check that the provider offers great security first, as that will protect you from online dangers, such as cybercrime, and keep you hidden from government surveillance.
A killswitch is also important because it will disconnect you if the VPN fails, keeping your sensitive data secure.
Privacy is crucial, too, so the service should have a strict no-logs policy to ensure your online activities aren’t stored.
The server network is another factor to consider. Choosing a provider that has a large amount of servers in many countries will help you circumvent censorship and geoblocks.
You should also select one that has good speeds, unless you like looking at loading screens, and unlimited bandwidth will keep you from worrying about data usage caps.
You may also want to consider its ease of use, what devices it is compatible with and how many devices you can connect at one time, the quality of its customer service and how much it costs.
Best VPN for Russia: ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN is the best provider for Russia because it offers an excellent all-around service and is the best VPN available. It has top-notch security, which is set at AES 256-bit by default and gives you the option to increase it to 4096-bit. You also get a killswitch and it honors your privacy with a strict no-logs policy.
You should have no problem connecting to a suitable server as it has more than 2,000 in 94 countries. Plus, there are some in Russia, so you can access Russian content if you want.
It’s the fastest VPN on the market and there are no bandwidth caps. Those features, plus the fact that it won in our best VPN for streaming piece, make it the perfect choice if streaming is going to be one of your main activities. Be sure to read our full ExpressVPN review to see why it’s so good.
Other Reasons We Like ExpressVPN
ExpressVPN is one of the easiest VPNs to use after installation. It does almost everything for you under the hood, so you just need to choose a suitable server and make sure you’re connected to it.
You can use it on Windows, macOS, Android and iOS. There’s also the option to use browser extensions for Chrome, Safari and Firefox. You can install it on as many devices as you like, but you can only have three devices connected at the same time.
Customer service is available 24/7 by live chat and email. Live chat is the fastest option, though it’s slower than other providers. The staff is friendly and helpful, whichever path you choose.
ExpressVPN is one of the most expensive providers on the market, which is a letdown. With the quality of service you get, though, it’s worth it. Plus, the longer the plan you choose, the cheaper it is in the end. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, too, in case you decide it’s not for you.
- 148 locations
- Slow switch time
- 3 simultaneous connections
NordVPN often earns a high place in our articles and is comparable to ExpressVPN. It offers a great service with excellent security, including the option to use its double-hop servers for extra protection. Your connection is safe and there’s a killswitch provided to keep it that way. Plus, it has a solid no-logs policy.
It has over 5,000 servers in 62 countries, giving you plenty for circumventing blocks. That includes 27 in Russia, so you can access content restricted to there.
Its speeds are good, but you may find it slows down when connecting to a server far away. NordVPN is a good choice for streaming as it gets into most services easily and has unlimited bandwidth. Have a look at our NordVPN review for more on the service.
Other Reasons We Like NordVPN
You can install it on Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and the process for doing so is simple. The clients are user-friendly and you can connect up to six devices at the same time, earning it first place in our best VPN for multiple devices article.
There’s a handy knowledgebase to help you with most common issues. Plus, live chat and email is available if you need more assistance. Live chat is the quickest option, but either way it’s helpful.
The service provided by NordVPN is a great value for the money. The monthly price isn’t bad, but you would be better off opting for a longer subscription as the price comes down significantly. There is a 30-day refund, though, in case you don’t like it.
- Double-hop servers
- Gets into streaming services
- Priced well
- Lack of detail on server location
VyprVPN offers good security that comes with its own Chameleon protocol for even more protection. It also has a killswitch built in and doesn’t keep usage logs, so there’s no trace of what you’ve been up to.
If you opt for VyprVPN, you’ll also get its Cyphr messaging app. It acts like any other messaging app, but it’s secure. No data is kept and there’s no government snooping. The only thing is if you want to use it, whoever you want to contact also has to have it. It is free with the service, though, so there are no add-on fees.
VyprVPN’s total number of servers is much lower than our other choices, with just over 700 available. That said, it does cover 64 countries, so you still have a good chance of finding a suitable one. Some servers are in Moscow, too, in case that’s what you need.
One of VyprVPN’s weak points is speed, as it can be slow. Still, it should be okay for most activities and there are no bandwidth limits to worry about. Read our VyprVPN review for more information.
Other Reasons We Like VyprVPN
Desktop clients are available for Windows and macOS, but the layout isn’t great and could do with being improved. The mobile apps for Android and iOS are fine, though. Its basic package allows you to connect up to three devices, but if you opt for the premium package, you can connect up to five.
If you run into problems, you can use the FAQ section to try to get it sorted yourself. There’s also live chat and email for further assistance, with live chat being the quickest choice. If you have a more technical problem, though, we recommend using email because you’ll get a much better response.
VyprVPN’s plans are affordable, but the longer you sign up for, the better deal you’ll get. It doesn’t have a refund policy, but you can make use of the three-day trial.
- Chameleon protocol
- Cyphr encrypted messaging
- Network disappoints
- No refund policy
TorGuard isn’t as good as our first choices, but it’s still worth considering. Its security is high-quality and customizable, which may be something you like. Just don’t go tinkering around unless you know what you’re doing. There is a killswitch provided to protect your data, too, and the company honors your privacy with a no-logs policy.
There are over 3,000 servers dotting 55 countries, including Russia, so you should find one that suits your activities.
Speeds vary, but a lot of that depends on the security setup you choose. The higher the security, the slower it may be. It should still be fine, though, and there’s no limit on how much bandwidth you can use.
One thing you need to know about TorGuard, though, is that it’s not great at getting into some streaming services. If you have trouble, you can opt to pay for a dedicated IP address that is guaranteed to work. Read more about that in our TorGuard review.
Other Reasons We Like TorGuard
There are desktop clients for Windows and macOS, as well as mobile apps for Android and iOS. They’re easy to use, but you may find the mobile apps annoying during setup. TorGuard allows you to have five devices connected at the same time. If you need more than that, you can increase the limit for $1 per device.
If you have issues, you can contact a member of support through live chat, but keep in mind that it isn’t always manned, so you may have to leave a message and wait for a reply by email. You can also look at the online guides and forum for help.
TorGuard has a fair monthly price, but it will go up if you decide to include add-ons. You can reduce the overall cost by choosing a longer plan and there’s a seven-day money-back guarantee to make you feel more comfortable doing so.
- Multiple protocol options
- Large server network
- Difficult to switch servers
CyberGhost has great security that comes with a built-in killswitch, so you can be sure you’re always protected. It also doesn’t keep a log of your online activities, ensuring that they stay secret.
With almost 3,000 servers in more than 60 countries, you should have no problem connecting to one that works for you. That said, there are no servers in Russia, so if you want to access content that’s restricted to there, you’ll need to go with one of our other picks.
CyberGhost’s speeds aren’t as good as our other selections, but they’re not too bad. Like NordVPN, it can get slow over long distances. There are no bandwidth caps to worry about, though, so you can download or stream as much as you like. Read our CyberGhost review for more.
Other Reasons We Like CyberGhost
You can use CyberGhost on Windows and macOS, but it has a dynamic tile interface that isn’t great. Still, it’s okay once you get used to it. The mobile apps for Android and iOS are fine.
CyberGhost allows you to connect a total of seven devices at the same time. That said, while most providers allow you to install their software on many devices, it limits you to seven.
For help, you can look at the extensive knowledgebase, which should get you through minor issues. For further support, you can contact a member of staff through live chat or email, with the former being the fastest option.
CyberGhost has an affordable monthly plan, but you can save money by opting for a longer one. You may be hesitant to dive in, but there is a free seven-day trial you can use to make sure you like it. Plus, there’s a 45-day money-back guarantee for extra peace of mind.
- Dynamic tile interface
It’s safe to say that Russia gives you plenty of reasons to use a VPN and we hope we have helped you choose a suitable one. You need to make sure it has great security to keep you protected from online policing and government surveillance, as well as a no-logs policy to keep your online activities secret.
Choosing one with a good server network will give you a better chance of bypassing blocks. If you want to access content restricted to Russia, you’ll need servers there, too.
We’ve chosen ExpressVPN as our best VPN for Russia as it offers an excellent service with great security and a strong no-logs policy. Plus, it has a good server network that includes Russia.
If you have any tips for using a VPN in Russia, let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading.