Russia is a fascinating country known for its cold winters and love of vodka. It’s the world’s largest nation, sharing borders with many countries in Europe and northern Asia. It may be run by a dodgy government, but you can’t take away its culture, heritage and beauty. Still, if you’re going to go online, you should use one of our best VPN for Russia picks to stay safe.
- In 2019, Roskomnadzor ordered VPN providers to block certain websites and log user activity. Most VPNs refused, and many opted to proactively shut down their physical servers in Russia.
- ExpressVPN and NordVPN are still the two best VPNs for Russia, despite not having any physical servers in the country.
- Surfshark still retains its servers in Russia, only because it has yet to be approached by Roskomnadzor. So, while it’s safe to connect to servers in Russia, things could change anytime as Roskomnadzor seeks to tighten control of the Russian internet.
Using a virtual private network is a no-brainer. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, you can’t escape online dangers, such as cybercrime. Plus, they will also help you avoid online geoblocks. When it comes to Russia, though, there’s censorship to bypass and other reasons that make it a sensible idea to protect yourself with a VPN.
Yes, you can use a VPN in Russia. Even though the major VPN providers have shut down their servers in Russia, you can use them to connect to servers in neighboring countries or across the globe.
Yes, VPNs are legal in Russia. VPNs and internet anonymizers aren’t banned in Russia, but the country does block URLs of VPN providers that give access to blocked content or websites on Russia’s “reject list.”
To get a good Russian VPN, choose a service that offers top-notch security and privacy to conceal your digital footprint. The VPN should also possess an unrivaled ability to unblock geo-restricted Russian websites and be fast enough to stream or torrent videos, buffering-free.
While all reliable VPNs no longer operate servers in Russia, some VPN providers — like Surfshark and VyprVPN — still have servers in Russia.
- : PayPal, Credit card, Bitcoin, regional payment systems, WebMoney
- : 5
- : Credit card, Google Pay, AmazonPay, ACH Transfer, UnionPay, Crypto Currencies, PayPal (via Paddle)
- : 6
- : PayPal, Credit card, Google Pay, Amazon Pay
- : Unlimited
- : PayPal, Credit card, bitcoin
- : 7
- : PayPal, Credit card
- : 30
What Makes the Best VPN for Russia?
When you choose a VPN provider for Russia, you need to make sure it has several key features, including excellent security and privacy, the ability to bypass Russian censorship, plus good speeds. Here’s our list of the best VPNs for Russia.
- ExpressVPN — Fast speeds and optimal privacy and security
- NordVPN — An extensive global server network and top-notch security
- Surfshark — Affordable, secure and has servers in Russia
- CyberGhost — A wide-ranging server network and inexpensive
- VyprVPN — Proprietary Chameleon protocol, plus servers in Moscow
Most importantly, the VPN provider needs to have excellent security to protect you from online dangers and keep you hidden from intrusive surveillance. Along with that, it should honor your online privacy with a strict no-logs policy in place, which means it doesn’t keep a record of your online activities.
Also, the more servers there are in different countries, the better your chance of getting access to other countries’ streaming services, like Netflix U.S. or BBC iPlayer. Our best VPN for Netflix guide has some dedicated recommendations.
To make sure you’re not constantly waiting for content to load, you need to choose a VPN that has good speed and unlimited bandwidth. Both of those features are important if you want to do some streaming or torrenting online.
However, keep in mind that many reliable VPNs — including ExpressVPN, NordVPN and CyberGhost — can’t access content restricted in Russia because they have shut their Russian servers down following stringent censorship laws (more on that in the next section).
What You Need to Know About the Russian VPN Ban
In 2017, Russia began blocking VPN services. Providers who had so far enabled users to access prohibited content would be blocked unless they agreed to restrict users from visiting banned websites. If the provider agreed, they could continue to operate in the country.
Most refused to comply, and some ignored the request altogether. The law was then amended to impose fines on noncompliant VPN services and other anonymizers. Still, the law wasn’t implemented well.
In another attempt in 2019, Roskomnadzor sent major VPN providers emails, ordering them to implement website-blocking mechanisms or become blocked in Russia.
None of the VPN providers approached were willing to cooperate, though, as that would essentially mean logging users’ activity, too. Thus, many shut down their servers in Russia. Our piece dedicated to the VPN ban in Russia goes into more detail.
The 5 Best VPNs for Russia
We tested many services to find the top five VPNs capable of protecting you against Russian government surveillance. In this section, we’ll discuss all of our findings in detail, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each VPN to help you make an informed decision. ExpressVPN is our best VPN for Russia, so let’s dive straight in.
More details about ExpressVPN:
- Pricing: $8.32 per month on the annual plan
- Provider Website: www.expressvpn.com
- Excellent security
- Blazing fast
- Access to major streaming services
- No servers in Russia to access Russian content
ExpressVPN is the best Russian VPN because of its excellent all-around service and best-in-class security. It combines AES 256-bit encryption, secure VPN protocols and HMAC authentication — a message authentication code that prevents data in transit from being altered — to wrap your traffic in an encrypted tunnel. This way, no one can see or log your online activity, not even the Russian government, internet service providers or hackers.
Even better, ExpressVPN provides over 3,000 servers across 94 countries to help you get around the internet censorship in Russia. So, if you’re a foreign expatriate living in Russia or a local citizen, you have plenty of options to unblock censored websites and access foreign services without limits.
However, like many top VPN services, ExpressVPN has shut down its servers in Russia, so you won’t be able to access Russian-restricted content.
ExpressVPN’s Built-in Security Features
ExpressVPN offers a kill switch and DNS leak protection, which are enabled by default to keep your sensitive information safe as you roam online. Most importantly, it uses TrustedServer technology — which wipes all of the information on the VPN server every time you power it off and on. This means, even if the Russian government demands your information, ExpressVPN will have nothing to share.
While ExpressVPN is the most expensive provider we’ve come across, it’s also the best VPN Cloudwards has reviewed. However, you can reduce some of that cost by opting for a longer plan. Plus, there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you’ve got nothing to lose. Read our ExpressVPN review for a better look at the service.
ExpressVPN is without a doubt the best Russia VPN, thanks to its strong security and privacy. It no longer offers Russian servers, but its global coverage is excellent. Better still, it’s one of the fastest VPNs on the market, and its ability to get into streaming services is unparalleled — which helped it take the top spot in our best VPN for streaming comparison.
More details about NordVPN:
- Pricing: $3.71 per month on the two-year plan
- Provider Website: www.nordvpn.com
- Huge network of servers
- Excellent security
- Double-hop VPN encryption
- Slow over longer-distance servers
- No servers in Russia to access Russian content
NordVPN is another of our best VPNs for Russia, thanks to its strong security and extensive server network. It offers over 5,800 servers across 60 countries, meaning you should have no problem breaking through geoblocks in Russia. Like ExpressVPN, though, NordVPN used to have servers in Russia but discontinued them after Russia put strict VPN rules in place.
Its security is among some of the best on the market and includes the use of its obfuscated servers, which offer an additional layer of security and privacy. Also, there’s a kill switch and DNS leak protection for extra peace of mind.
Perhaps most importantly, NordVPN has a strict no-logs policy, so you can be sure that the provider won’t collect or share your private data with the Russian authorities.
NordVPN’s Advanced Security and Privacy Features
NordVPN offers an array of advanced features, including Onion Over VPN and double-hop servers. So, if you’re a political activist or journalist in Russia, Onion over VPN gives you an extra layer of anonymity, allowing you to send sensitive information safely. Plus, the double-hop servers route your internet traffic through two servers, making it twice as hard for Russian authorities and hackers to decipher your data.
NordVPN offers good value for your money, but the monthly rate isn’t reasonable. So, opting for a longer plan will save you money in the long run. There’s also a 30-day refund period, in case you don’t like it. Read more about the provider in our full NordVPN review.
Overall, NordVPN ticks the right boxes for the best Russia VPN. Beyond security, privacy and the ability to bypass geoblocking, it provides no data caps and can get into most streaming services, like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. Plus, NordVPN is our best VPN for torrenting, in case that’s something you want to do. Its speeds are good, but it can become slow over long distances.
More details about Surfshark:
- Pricing: $2.49 per month on the two-year plan
- Provider Website: www.surfshark.com
- Russian servers
- Multiple anti-surveillance & anti-censorship modes
- Unlimited simultaneous connections
- No phone support
- Slow over longer distances
Surfshark is one of the most user-friendly VPNs for bypassing Russian government surveillance. It’s not as fast as ExpressVPN or NordVPN, but it’s fast enough for torrenting or streaming. Although it doesn’t hit the heights of our top two picks when it comes to unblocking streaming sites, you shouldn’t have any problems watching Russian TV abroad.
It offers over 3,000 servers in more than 60 countries, including Russia. Having servers in Russia is excellent as it means you can access content that’s restricted to Russian IP addresses, like bank accounts.
It’s still safe to connect to these servers because Surfshark hasn’t complied with Russia’s censorship demands. However, things might take a different turn as Russia intensifies its attempts to rein in VPNs.
Surfshark Anti-Censorship Modes
With Surfshark’s “camouflage mode,” your internet service provider (ISP) can’t detect you’re using a VPN — which is perfect if you don’t want to clash with Russia’s censorship laws. Plus, its “noborders” mode allows you to access online content in countries that usually block VPNs, like Russia does.
Surfshark is a pocket-friendly VPN that costs $2.49 per month on the two-year plan. It also gives you a 30-day money-back guarantee to test its features and enjoy unlimited simultaneous connections. Read our Surfshark review to learn more.
Though Surfshark is cheap, it’s proof that a cheap VPN doesn’t have to be bare-bones. The VPN service packs a real punch in terms of standard security features like split tunneling, kill switch and DNS leak protection. Its suite of advanced security and privacy tools, such as its double-VPN feature, noborders and camouflage mode, give it a leg-up on the competition.
More details about CyberGhost:
- Pricing: $2.25 per month on the three-year plan
- Provider Website: www.cyberghostvpn.com
- 7 simultaneous connections
- Automatic kill switch
- No kill switch controls
- Can be slow
- No servers in Russia to access local content
Next up is CyberGhost, a decent provider with solid security. It uses AES 256-bit encryption and solid VPN protocols to keep you safe from snoopers, hackers and the Russian authorities. Plus, it has a permanently enabled kill switch, which means you don’t have to worry about it, and your online activities aren’t logged.
It also has fast speeds, but like NordVPN, CyberGhost can become slow over long distances. You’ll get unlimited bandwidth, though, and it can get into most streaming services like BBC iPlayer and Netflix. It’s also a good choice for torrenting, with a list of servers optimized for that. Read our CyberGhost review to learn more.
CyberGhost’s Specialized Anonymity Servers
CyberGhost has an extensive network of over 6,000 servers across 59 countries, including a list of specialized anonymity servers for added privacy online. Anonymity servers ensure that no one can trace your private data or online activity — not even the authorities in Russia. One quibble, though, is that CyberGhost has no server in Russia, so you won’t be able to access Russia-restricted content.
Price-wise, CyberGhost is an inexpensive service, setting you back $2.25 per month on the three-year plan. However, there’s a seven-day free trial available for Android and iOS, so you can see if you like it first. Plus, there’s a money-back guarantee for 14 days on the monthly plan and 45 days on a longer one.
CyberGhost is dirt cheap, without compromising on the functionality. It allows you to connect up to seven devices simultaneously, which is why it earned a place in our best VPN for multiple devices roundup. In a nutshell, this VPN provider gets everything right, except its speed, which is why it settled for the fourth spot.
More details about VyprVPN:
- Pricing: $1.66 per month on the 36-month plan
- Provider Website: www.vyprvpn.com
- Servers in Moscow
- Configurable security
- Chameleon protocol
- Many features
- Small server network
- Interface is dated
Our last pick is VyprVPN, which isn’t as good as our other choices but has excellent security — our primary focus. It offers standard security features, including a kill switch and leak protection to keep you safe online. For an additional security layer, VyprVPN comes with the NAT firewall, which blocks unrequested inbound traffic from snoopers, hackers and botnets.
VyprVPN’s server network is small compared to its rivals with less than 1,000 servers in total that cover 64 countries. It does have servers in Moscow, so if you need to access content restricted to Russia, this is another good choice after Surfshark. Its servers allow for torrenting, and you’ll be able to access most streaming sites.
VyprVPN’s Proprietary Chameleon Protocol
Along with the security, you’ll also get access to its proprietary Chameleon protocol. This unique protocol scrambles packet metadata of OpenVPN, thus preventing detection via deep packet inspection (DPI). This way, it allows you to bypass restrictive networks in Russia without worrying about spying or inspection by ISPs or government agencies.
VyprVPN has two tiers for pricing: the standard package and the premium package. The yearly plan works out cheaper and comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee so that you can try it first. You’ll need to opt for the premium package to use the Chameleon protocol, though. Read more about that in our VyprVPN review.
- : 1 month free (2 months total)
- : Unlimited GB
- : 30
- : 6 months free (18 months total)
- : Unlimited GB
- : 30
- : 12 months free (36 months total)
- : Unlimited GB
- : 30
Because VyprVPN trails all our other picks on multiple fronts, including speeds and server network, it’s our last pick. However, the VPN service offers a great set of security features that certainly helped nail its spot on our list. Although VyprVPN’s interface may be dated, it’s still easy to use; hence being perfect for beginners.
Online Censorship in Russia: Why You Need a VPN
Internet censorship is prevalent in many countries, though it’s worse in some than others. For example, China has one of the worst forms of online censorship in the world via the Great Firewall of China. Although the Russian online world isn’t as bad, the last few years have seen internet freedom in the country wane significantly.
The Russian government has developed and implemented laws restricting access to specific websites and content. This includes content related to the political opposition, the conflict in Ukraine and the LGBTQ community.
Besides that, the government has mandated several agencies to decide what gets blocked, such as Roskomnadzor, the Federal Drug Control Service and the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Even though the guidelines on what should be blocked are often vague, Russian ISPs are at liberty to block some content with a court order. In such cases, they have to consult the government’s “reject list” of banned sites. However, ISPs don’t need a court order to block content related to:
- Suicide information
- Child sexual abuse
- Drug propaganda
- Copyright violations
- Information about young victims of crimes and unsanctioned public actions or rallies
In 2017, the Russian government banned many websites that it deemed “undesirable” under a 2015 law aimed at organizations that the Kremlin accused of instigating political dissent.
The same year, local ISPs were ordered to block 8,000 pirate websites and an additional 600 pirate mirror websites in 2018. According to internet freedom promoter Roskomsvoboda, the Russian government blocked more than 10 million websites in 2018.
Social Media and Messaging Apps in Russia
The Russian authorities have expanded existing overbroad legislation and introduced new laws to escalate the pressure on social media companies. A new law that came into effect at the start of February 2021 legally defined “social network” as any platform with over half a million daily visitors. Such platforms are now required to censor or take down content classified as illegal under Russian law.
The law also introduced punitive measures to enhance the administrative responsibility for noncompliance. Any platform that fails to comply will be subject to stiff fines of up to $54,000, with repeat offenses attracting a penalty of up to 10 percent of the company’s annual revenue.
Social Media Platforms Blocked in Russia
Several companies have already faced the full wrath of the problematic regulation of social media use in Russia.
For example, LinkedIn was blocked in 2016 because it failed to transfer the processing of Russian citizens’ personal data to Russian territory. Russian law requires domestic and foreign companies to store the personal data of Russian citizens on servers hosted in Russia. Companies that refuse can face a fine or be blocked.
Telegram was blocked by court order in 2018 because it didn’t comply with a provision in the Yarovaya law. That provision requires online services that offer encryption services to assist authorities with decoding the encrypted data.
Telegram offers a service where people can encrypt text messages, which have been accused of being used for terrorism. Despite Russia’s efforts in blocking Telegram, it’s still accessible.
Most recently, on January 20, 2021, Roskomnadzor issued a warning to TikTok, requesting the social media platform remove content that called on minors to participate in illegal activity.
Seven days later, Roskomnadzor was at it again, fining Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok for their alleged involvement in spreading appeals to minors to take part in unauthorized rallies on January 23.
Online Surveillance in Russia
Intrusive surveillance is ever-increasing, with the ever-expanding laws tightening control over online content and internet infrastructure. One such law is the Yarovaya law we briefly mentioned, which includes several provisions that gravely undermine the right to privacy.
The law, which came into full force in 2016, requires ISPs to store communication metadata for three years, and ISPs to retain user data for one year. Besides that, it requires ISPs to share metadata and disclose information necessary to decode electronic messages, like encryption keys.
Perhaps most troubling, Russian authorities don’t need court orders to access the data. That’s not all. Another 2018 Russian government decree requires international instant messaging providers to confirm a user’s identity by their phone number.
Surveillance Systems for ISPs
Other notable laws and amendments that have further entrenched the problematic regulation of online surveillance include the sovereign internet law enacted in 2019. The law requires ISPs to install System Operative-Search Measures (SORM) for online surveillance.
SORM uses deep packet inspection (DPI) technology to allow the Federal Security Service (FSB) to filter, track and reroute internet traffic.
Still, we’ve barely scratched the surface of the Russian laws that have expanded internet censorship in the country. Besides enacting the regulations, the Russian government is forcefully using its surveillance capabilities to monitor activists, journalists and opposition members.
However, Russia isn’t alone in its surveillance actions. Our best VPN for the UK and best VPN for the U.S. pieces show other countries that engage in intrusive surveillance.
Freedom of Speech Online in Russia
Even though the Russian constitution has a provision for freedom of speech, the government has placed many restrictions. This, coupled with Russia’s intrusive surveillance, has had a stifling effect on freedom of speech online.
While Russia’s crackdown on freedom of expression appears to target civic groups or political opposition, they apply to all Russians. For example, anyone deemed as provoking separatism or extremism online can be punished with up to five years imprisonment under the Russian criminal code.
Russian Crackdown on Activists
A growing number of Russian citizens are unjustifiably prosecuted on criminal charges for online videos, social media posts, interviews and media articles. More than 1,000 criminal cases have been filed for online activities, and 98 of those required a prison sentence. Many users have even been prosecuted for criticizing religion, particularly the Russian Orthodox Church.
In one case, a 19-year-old student was charged with inciting hate speech after he likened Game of Thrones character Jon Snow to Jesus Christ. Police seized his computer, and he was put on the extremist list and faced the possibility of a five-year prison sentence. There have been similar cases, too, so be careful of what you post online.
LGBTQ activists can be seen as promoting nontraditional sexual relations, resulting in punishment for their online expression. For example, one activist shared information about a group that advocates access to health and sexual information. They were convicted and fined 50,000 Russian rubles ($760).
Now you know why it’s essential to use a VPN while in Russia. We hope you’ve found our guide helpful and have chosen a suitable VPN service. You should make sure it has excellent security and privacy, as well as a good server network for getting past blocks.
ExpressVPN is a clear winner due to its high-level security settings, dedication to privacy and many other features. It’ll hide your identity, and you’ll be able to get into pretty much anything with it. Why not give it a try with the 30-day money-back guarantee that’s on offer? However, if you need to access Russian content via server in the country, Surfshark is your best bet.
If you have experience using a VPN in Russia, tell us about it in the comment section. We’d love to hear about it. As always, thanks for reading.