Russia’s internet is sliding towards authoritarianism and complete muzzling of free speech. Digital rights activists are being routinely imprisoned and subjected to violence and cyber attacks. All of this has lead to a rapid increase in VPN use.
If you can’t stick around to read the rest of this article, here’s a summary of our top VPN picks for Russia:
Best VPNs for Russia
- ExpressVPN Best all round VPN for Russia. Large network of servers, great speeds and works with all popular streaming services. Class leading security and privacy. 30-day money back guarantee.
- NordVPN Best budget provider with a huge network of servers able to circumvent most restricted and geo-blocked sites. Solid privacy and security features.
- CyberGhost Good for beginners, with some of the quickest servers that we’ve tested for streaming and downloading. Easy to set up and get going.
- IPVanish Preferred by Kodi and Fire TV Stick users for easy remote integration with app. Good speeds and great security features.
- VyprVPN Impressive speeds and goes to some lengths for privacy and security. Not the cheapest option on this list.
- Hotspot Shield A good choice for unblocking popular streaming sites as offers fast speeds.
The deteriorating nature of online freedoms in Russia necessitates the use of a VPN while browsing the web. Short for Virtual Private Network, a VPN encrypts all the traffic flowing to and from your device and routes it via an intermediary server of your choice. It spoofs your location from nosy surveillance agencies and hackers and makes it very difficult for intrusive elements to pry into your online behavior.
VPNs can also be used by bloggers, social media activists, and others fighting for digital rights to continue to post online anonymously and with a sharply reduced fear of getting caught (more on that later in this article). At the same time, a VPN greatly enhances your browsing experience by unlocking geo-restricted content on streaming video sites such as Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, ESPN, and Vudu.
The Best VPNs for Russia
Our list of the best VPNs for Russia is based on the following factors:
- Speed and stability of service
- A large network of servers across the world.
- Work with popular streaming services including Netlfix
- Strong encryption parameters to maintain privacy and anonymity
- Ease of use
- Unlocks geo-restricted content without any problems
- Suitable for torrenting
- Apps for Android and iOS
May 2020 Update: Russia has demanded several popular VPN providers link their servers in the country to the state censorship agency. As a result, many of the providers below have refused to comply and therefore do not currently have servers in Russia. However, you can still use these providers in Russia in order to bypass censorship. You just can’t connect to a Russian server or get a Russian IP address.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
ExpressVPN ranks as one of the top VPN services because of its commitment to serving users, an aesthetically-pleasing design, and robust speeds and security. The layout is simple and intuitive with minimal downtime. I’ve never come across a problem in my months of using the service.
It offers a large network of over 3,000 servers spread across 94 countries, although it doesn’t specify how many exactly are located in that country. Foreign expatriates living in Russia and local citizens traveling abroad shouldn’t face any problems in acquiring a speedy and stable connection. Subscribers also have an option of connecting to a ‘smart location’ – in this case, the built-in AI will select the best server for you based on your current location.
Russia’s internet is monitored so privacy concerns should be quelled by ExpressVPN’s policy of not storing any traffic logs. The only microscopic metadata retention pertains to the date (not time) of connection, choice of server location, and total bandwidth used. The company says your individual IP address won’t be logged.
Some users may feel uncomfortable with this so if you would like to cover your tracks completely, we recommend that you sign up with a burner email account and pay via Bitcoin.
Encryption protocols are uncompromising. ExpressVPN uses 256-bit AES-CBC wit the utilization of both HMAC authentication and perfect forward secrecy. An internet kill switch is included with all packages. The company refers to this as a ‘network lock’ – with the feature temporarily halting all web traffic if the connection drops.
ExpressVPN unlocks geo-restricted content on Netflix without breaking a sweat. It works with Hulu and BBC iPlayer as well and supports torrents on all servers.
There are apps for Android and iOS. It’s also possible to use a desktop client for Windows and MacOS.
- Superfast server network is great for streaming and downloading
- Operates over 3,000 servers in 94 countries
- User location remains hidden with high-grade encryption
- Can unblock most geo-restricted content at HD speeds
- Gets around torrent tracker sites blocks without compromising privacy
- A wide range of apps available – Windows, MacOS, Android, iOS, Linux, and certain Wi-Fi routers
- Slightly more expensive than some other options, use a discounting coupon below
BEST VPN FOR RUSSIA:ExpressVPN is our #1 Choice. Optimized for high-speed connections. Scores high above its rivals for unblocking Netflix and other streaming sites. Hard to beat on privacy and security. There is a 30-day no-quibbles money-back guarantee so you can try it risk-free.
Read our review of ExpressVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
NordVPN is a mature VPN provider, after having been in the business for over a decade. There’s a bunch of powerful features packed into an intuitive app – including options to connect to a server based on how you would like to use it such as streaming TV, ultra-secure privacy, anti-DDoS, or anonymity.
Both speeds and privacy were excellent during our extensive testing of the product – helping it glean an impressive 9/10 rating.
It abides by a rigorous no logs policy which means it retains absolutely no information about user sessions, traffic, or timestamps.
This policy has served to be a boon for people valuing privacy. There have been at least two instances where NordVPN was approached by government agencies, demanding that the company fork over user data. But there simply wasn’t any incriminatory information on its servers. Authorities even confiscated physical servers once but couldn’t glean any information out of it. Furthermore, the company is incorporated in Panama which means it’s not subjected to any mandatory data retention laws.
NordVPN operates one of the larger server networks we’ve seen with over 5,500 servers in 60 countries. Like we mentioned before, you can pick one for your specific requirement.
The service works with many online streaming services including Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer. It allows torrenting.
Encryption standards are tight. All traffic is secured via the 256-bit AES protocol by default and uses 2,048-bit SSL keys. DNS leak protection is enabled. Your privacy and anonymity are pretty much assured.
There’s support for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
- Budget provider with fast and reliable servers for HD streaming
- Operates over 5,500 servers in 60 countries around the globe
- Easily unblocks a wide range of geo-locked sites
- Strong encryption and no logs make for top security and privacy
- Live chat can assist you with manual configurations
- Their desktop app is dated
BEST BUDGET OPTION:NordVPN is great value. Solid security and privacy and works reliably in Russia. Use up to 6 devices at once with great connection speeds. 30-day money back guarantee.
Here’s our in-depth review of NordVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
CyberGhost will appeal to users on a budget who aren’t looking for a fancy VPN with a deluge of customizable options. It does its job quietly and efficiently but comes without the bells and whistles of the pricier VPNs on this list. Having said that, there is an adequate server network and both speeds and encryption standards are decent.
Currently, there are over 6,000 servers spread across 90 countries including 96 in Russia and a decent number in Eastern Europe and North America.
Apps are available for both Android and iOS as well as desktop support for Windows, Linux and MacOS. Torrents are allowed on all servers except those in USA, Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong.
Encryption standards are firm. The company avails 256-bit AES encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default along with 2,048-bit RSA keys and MD5 HMAC authentication. There’s an internet kill switch included.
- Streams HD video seamlessly
- Keeps no user activity logs and provides strong encryption to bypass activity detection
- Some of the fastest streaming servers we’ve tested
- Operates over 6,000 servers around the globe with 96 in Russia
- Doesn’t work in China
EASY TO USE:CyberGhost has a simple set up. Works well in Russia. Good option if you are looking for a fast, reliable connection and an easy-to-use interface. 45-day money back guarantee.
Here’s our full review of CyberGhost.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
IPVanish emphasizes speed, security, and privacy. It’s a recommended option for users looking to download torrents and maintain the highest privacy settings. Our user review gave the service an impressive 8/10 rating and it’s easy to see why.
Users in Russia will be happy to know that IPVanish declines to store any user information. All details like session history, choice of servers, and bandwidth will be hidden.
Encryption parameters are unflinching. IPVanish leverages 256-bit encryption on the OpenVPN protocol by default, SHA512 authentication, and a DHE-RSA 2,048 key exchange with perfect forward secrecy. The latter feature means that even if hackers break into your account, which is a far-fetched scenario to begin with, it’ll still be impossible for them to decrypt past session data.
An internet kill switch is included with all packages – adding an additional layer of security.
The service offers over 1,300 servers spread across 75 countries. At the moment there isn’t an option for Russia, but there are plentiful servers in former Soviet republics such as Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Bulgaria.
IPVanish doesn’t unlock content on Netflix or Hulu but does work with BBC iPlayer seamlessly. It also permits torrenting on all servers.
There are apps for both iOS and Android as well as a desktop client for Windows and MacOS.
Many users find it an excellent option for Kodi because it allows them to download the Android APK directly to their device. The interface is also remote control friendly for Kodi devices that lack a keyboard and mouse.
- Completely logless service won’t compromise your privacy
- Impressive 4K streaming speeds achieved during testing
- Unblocks all major streaming sites from abroad
- Works well with remote control devices like Kodi
- Customer support is a little slow
LARGE SERVER NETWORK:IPVanish works with up to 10 connected devices. Fast connections, lightweight easy to use apps, good multi-platform support. Reliable in Russia but not with Netflix. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our review of IPVanish.
Money-back guarantee: 30 DAYS
VyprVPN has some of the toughest encryption protocols we’ve seen. It complements this with around-the-clock online customer support service, free 3-day trial, and a stupendous server network (over 700 servers). The company is able to overcome even the strictest barriers that governments impose on netizens.
The company is very popular with users in China where it easily unblocks the Great Firewall. This means that its proprietary tech is sophisticated enough to thwart thousands of state-appointed engineers that work around the clock to weave a massive web. That’s a considerable feat.
VyprVPN made a wise decision to physically own and manage entire data centers which help it finetune the service and puts it in a class above other VPN companies. The normal industry standard is to either rent servers or outsource to a third-party. This helps VyprVPN further secure user traffic.
Said traffic is encrypted via the OpenVPN protocol, 256-bit AES encryption, 2,048-bit RSA keys without perfect forward secrecy, and SHA256 authentication. There’s an internet kill switch included plus they now operate a strict no-logging policy. It’s also able to unlock content on Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer.
A premium version of the package allows access to the Chameleon™ protocol which scrambles OpenVPN metadata so deep packet inspection cannot recognize it.
Apps are available for both Android and iOS as well as a desktop client for Windows and MacOS. It supports torrenting.
- Speeds are fast and stable
- Keeps no logs
- Utilizes AES-256 encryption, kill switch and DNS leak protection
- Can connect up to 6 devices simultaneously
- Apps are slick but lack advanced configuration options
- Not the cheapest option on this list
INDEPENDENT NETWORK:VyprVPN is user friendly. Good speeds and uptime as all servers are owned by VyprVPN. Not the cheapest option in this list. 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of VyprVPN.
Money-back guarantee: 45 DAYS
Hotspot Shield has faced criticism in the past for its logging policy, but it has come a long way. It now only logs encrypted IP addresses during a VPN session but deletes them immediately afterward, so they can never be viewed by third parties. This provider offers excellent security features, including strong encryption, leak protection, a desktop kill switch, and automatic wifi protection (in the mobile apps). The best thing about this provider is its superior speeds, which make it a great choice for downloading large files.
Hotspot Shield uses shared IP addresses and imposes no bandwidth limit. It can unblock plenty of popular streaming services, including Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video. With a generous 45-day money-back guarantee, you can always test the service out to see if it’s a good fit.
Apps are available for Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android.
- Large network of servers
- Very fast speeds for streaming HD content
- Strong encryption and other security features
- Allows 5 simultaneous connections
- 45-day money-back guarantee
- Had past privacy issues
- Doesn’t accept cryptocurrency payments
GREAT LOW-COST VPN:Hotspot Shield comes at a low price and its fast speeds and excellent unblocking abilities make it a great option for streaming content from Russia. It even comes with a 45-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full review of Hotspot Shield.
Should I use a free VPN?
Free VPNs are a dime a dozen and may pop up in your search results because they’re heavily advertised. But if you’re looking for a premium browsing experience then don’t pin your hopes on them.
Free VPNs have a habit of monetizing by blitzing you with invasive advertisements, inserting tracking cookies, and selling your data to advertisers. Some have also hijacked your bandwidth in order to turn you into a foot soldier in a massive botnet army.
Expect bandwidth throttling, data caps, and a severely limited selection of servers.
Some of the VPNs listed in the article offer a free trial. That’s a suitable option if you’re not sure whether to opt for a VPN completely. But we strongly advise that you avoid the random ones that exist on the internet. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
VPNs to avoid
Russia’s internet is heavily censored and monitored so anyone opting to use a VPN needs to be assured that their private data will remain inaccessible. The VPNs we’ve recommended on this list will do that just fine, but there are others who might violate your trust. Hola is a good example of why you should carefully read trusted reviews before selecting a VPN.
Hola, based in Israel, which operated a popular VPN extension for Chrome, once had an impressive user base of 50 million. But despite the time and effort it had invested in building this community, it chose to undo all the good work for the sake of some supremely unethical acts. In 2015, the company leveraged a part of each user’s’ individual bandwidth and turned it into a pawn in a massive botnet army. If you were a Hola user, your device was used for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, promoting copyrighted content, and pornography.
How do I use a VPN in Russia?
In this section, we’ll take you through exactly how to set up your VPN. Follow the steps outlined here if you’re a foreign expatriate living in Russia looking to obtain an IP address from back home or another non-Russian location:
Here’s how to use a VPN in Russia:
- Browse through our recommended list of VPN services and decide on a plan that works for you
- Register and pay for the service
- Once that’s done, download the companion apps (for your phone) or software (for PC or MacOS)
- Clear your cookies and cache in all web browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Opera, UCWeb) to remove old location identifiers
- Restart your device
- Open the VPN companion software and login
- Select a server from the country you’re trying to obtain an IP address – such as Canada or Spain
- Allow a few seconds for the connection to be established. Once that’s done there should be a green notification icon in the taskbar or on the top of your smartphone screen
- Browse the web like you normally would. You’ll notice that host websites will assume your location is in the country you’re currently connected to and a bunch of previously unavailable content will now be accessible
If you are a Russian resident traveling abroad and want to access your usual services and websites from home, simply select a VPN with Russian servers and choose Russia in step 7 above.
What’s the future of the internet in Russia?
Internet advocacy body Freedom House says the digital landscape of the country is “not free”, pointing to a series of new legislative amendments known as ‘Yarovaya’s Law’ which undermines the security of encrypted communications and increases government access to user data. “Inciting” or “justifying” terrorism online is now punishable with a maximum sentence of a 7-year jail term, with the Russian administration using the vague and broad language in the bill to target social media users.
The monitoring agency puts the finger of blame on Russian president Vladimir Putin, saying that the clampdown on online freedom is a direct attempt to consolidate his authority. Content critical of the government’s actions in Crimea and involvement in the Ukrainian conflict is constantly filtered with independent news outlets facing legal and economic pressures from the Kremlin.
If the last few years are any yardstick, it’s unlikely that the Russian internet landscape will witness a greater degree of freedom. Authorities have continued to use new legislation to restrict access to content related to radical Islam, conflict with Ukraine, or any form of organized political opposition.
Thousands of websites continue to be blocked without proper justification. In July, over 2,000 people marched through the streets of Moscow demanding that the government end all efforts to control and monitor what is posted online.
A series of new bills introduced in parliament, but not yet passed, are trying to force VPN providers operating in the country to adhere to a government-sanctioned list of blocked sites. The laws also include a clause which requires internet service providers to keep a six-month list of the websites users visit. Additionally, it’ll compel instant messaging services like WhatsApp to hand over encryption keys so that authorities can monitor the content of communications.
Human Rights Watch explains Russian intervention on the web has been a major policy of the state since 2012 after state authorities realized the need to prevent the kind of mass uprising witnessed during 2011-12. Previously the internet had been viewed as some sort of benign space without the effect to mold public opinion and ministries had largely focused their efforts on curtailing content on television, print, and radio.
The internet is now viewed as the only medium where there was a significant degree of opposition to the ruling party’s policies and one that needs to be brought under control. The situation now is so bad that ordinary Russian citizens are unaware of what constitutes free speech and what doesn’t. Arbitrary definitions of laws are used to silence the truth while state-run media outlets continue to spew out biased reporting, particularly when it comes to regional conflicts.
How do I blog anonymously in Russia?
We’ve mentioned before how the Kremlin is trying to silence bloggers with the threat of incarceration and violent physical assaults. That’s a scary thought. But if you’re an activist or a journalist, we understand how important it is to get your message out. After all, media is the fourth pillar of the state and free speech is necessary for democracies to flourish.
There’s a sufficient amount of detail and best practices in our guide on how to stay hidden while blogging on the internet. Try to follow the steps we’ve outlined in detail. There’s no guarantee of your privacy remaining hidden forever but we do believe you can guard yourself to a sufficient degree if you take adequate steps to minimize your digital footprint.