The Russian state has done a lot to curtail the freedom of Russian citizens when it comes to accessing the internet. With a 30/100 (Not Free) score by Freedom House, it has long been one of the least free countries in Europe. The invasion in Ukraine is leading to even more drastic measures, so here’s what you need to know about using a VPN in Russia.
Table of contents
with Surfshark Alert
The internet freedom situation in Russia
Russian issues with internet censorship long predate the country’s invasion of Ukraine. It started out in 2012. Following a wave of protests, a new internet blocklist law came into effect, targeting sites that deal in child pornography and illegal drugs but soon came to encompass vague categories like “violating the established order” and “calling for illegal meetings.”
On the more technical side, one of the first moves would target Telegram for not cooperating with the FSB (though our security specialists say it has since been compromised) and banning VPNs. Censorship did not decrease in later years, with a 2019 “fake news” law targeting sources of “unreliable socially significant information.”
And while both site blocklists and software bans were always a thing, the situation intensified in 2021. Google and Apple complied with Russian demands to remove content published by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and his associates.
Twitter use was throttled using methods as sophisticated as Deep Packet Inspection. In December 2021, Russian authorities banned Tor users – a big move, considering that the 300,000 Russian daily users were about 15% of the total Tor user base.
More recently, in attempts to stifle war coverage, Russia announced that spreading “fake news” can carry the sentence of 15 years in prison, leading to shuttering of foreign press offices. And now, even Facebook is blocked.
Is using a VPN legal in Russia?
In November 2017, the Russian government passed a law banning the use of VPNs, Tor, and proxies to access unauthorized content. Since that time, it has been used to restrict specific VPN services.
The ban targets VPN providers who refuse to submit data to the Russian government. The threat of bans came in 2019. Two waves of bans followed in 2021, covering 15 VPNs. Only one Russia-based provider is known to have complied with the rules.
As the situation worsens, we can expect more bans in the future.
Surfshark servers in Russia were switched off on March 2nd
As a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Surfshark stopped operating Russian VPN servers on March 2. Such a service is impossible to maintain without paying Russian data centers, and Surfshark does not want to support the Russian state in any way.
Therefore, it is now impossible to get a Russian IP address by using Surfshark.
Does Surfshark VPN work in Russia?
As of the time of writing these words, Surfshark has not been blocked by the Russian government. Therefore, our service can still aid people who want to make their online presence more private by hiding their actual IP address or bypassing censorship and regaining access to social media sites.
VPN features and why they are useful in Russia
NoBorders mode – VPN use in restrictive regions
NoBorders enables you to use Surfshark in geo-restricted areas. Tested in places ranging from US university campuses to China, our app detects several blocking methods and immediately switches to NoBorders mode. It gives you a list of servers that function even in constrained networks. While Surshark hasn’t been blocked in Russia yet, this would help if it happens.
Kill Switch – preventing accidental exposure
Kill Switch is an automatic function that disconnects you from the internet if your VPN connection stops. This way, the user’s data isn’t accidentally exposed due to software failures.
RAM-only servers – no risk of server capture
Because all our VPN servers run on volatile (RAM) memory, any stored data is immediately erased when a server is shut down. No one can physically seize servers to take the data going through them. This also ensures that data on our former Russian servers is long gone.
No-logs policy – not keeping any data on you
Due to our no-logs policy, Surshark doesn’t trace your online movements or behavior. The VPN server only maintains enough data to keep your VPN connection active – it is deleted afterward. That way, your IP addresses and web browsing data are kept safe even in the case of lawful requests to hand over the connection logs.
Camouflage mode – hiding VPN connection
For situations where the mere use of a VPN may be illegal, Camouflage mode uses the OpenVPN protocol to make your VPN connection appear like nothing more than regular web traffic. It makes you safer without compromising your security.
Tips and tricks for using a VPN in Russia
It’s better to have a VPN set up before traveling to Russia. However, if that’s not practical, here are some tips on how to obtain and use it in the country:
- Try the manual download and set up. Depending on what restrictions are taking place, you may not get to access the website. If this happens, contact your VPN provider via email (e.g., [email protected]) and ask them to send you the manual configuration files and a guide.
- Use the OpenVPN protocol. Surfshark’s Camouflage mode employs the OpenVPN protocol to obfuscate your connection. This hides your VPN usage, making it look like regular web traffic.
- Use the NoBorders mode. Turn on the NoBorders mode on the app if you’re using it. This will provide you with a list of servers that can bypass government restrictions.
Websites and services blocked in Russia
The Russian government blocks many websites and messaging services to both prevent dissent and to stop inconvenient information from coming in. Here’s a list of some of the biggest blocks:
The Tor Project
Maintain security and access blocked websites with a virtual private network
The situation in Russia is grim and doesn’t show signs of improving. To maintain your online privacy and to bypass censorship, a VPN is your best bet. Whether you live in Russia or just travel, use all the tools at your disposal to keep you safe.
How do I get a Russian VPN?
Sign up for Surfshark, pick a plan, download the app for your devices, and you’re ready to go! All Surfshark VPN plans include unlimited devices, a free ad blocker, and loads of security and privacy features.
Can you use a VPN in Russia?
While individual VPN providers get banned in Russia, the use of a VPN as a tool hasn’t been banned (yet).
What VPN can connect to Russia?
Usually, any VPN can connect to Russian websites and services. However, many reputable VPN companies have been shutting down their Russian servers for security reasons or out of protest.
Can I get a free VPN for Russia?
Free VPNs are notoriously unsafe to use and can compromise your privacy. Considering the stakes of the situation, using them is not recommended.