It will be an understatement to say that the internet is an important part of our lives. It is an integral part of our lives. It is both empowering as well as binding in some ways.
An individual may use the internet to share ideas and views, while there may be some groups who may use the internet to poke around into the lives of others.
There happens to be a similar situation in the world’s largest country. The Russian government is trying to control the internet in the region so that it can control the lives of the citizens in some way.
One example of the government’s desire to control the internet in the region is that you would need your passport to access any public Wi-Fi network in Russia. The network operator will then be storing this passport information for at least six months.
The people in the country, and a lot of them, turned to VPN services to stop the government from violating their privacies on the internet.
However, the government in Russia is hell-bent on taking control of the internet in the region and came up with ways to limit the online freedom of the citizens. These ways affected the VPN services in the region as well.
Also check: Top Ten Overall VPN Services
This article will go through all the details of this constant cat and mouse chase between the Russian government and those who aspire for free internet in the region.
A Brief Background
Let us first give you a brief background of the online freedom situation in the country.
One can easily say that online freedom is non-existent in this communist nation. The country has got a lot of restrictions which affect activities ranging from religious prayers to binge watching on the internet.
The authoritarian governments across the world are trying to gain full control over the cyberspace in the region as they realize that a free and open internet can enlighten the citizens about their rights.
Roskomnadzor is the official body of the Russian government which is responsible for introducing, implementing, and enforcing various regulations on the internet and telecommunication services on the country.
The country not only has mandatory data retention laws but, the government bodies have full control over the data at all times.
The government had made it mandatory for the telecommunication services and ISPs to install SORM (System for Operative Investigative Activities) devices on their servers. This would give the Russian government full access to the activities of the users of the services.
Roskomnadzor does not allow the telecommunication services to have servers outside the country if they are providing the services within the country. This way the government also keeps physical control over the information related to the online activities of the citizens.
A lot of companies have not had a pleasant experience in Russia because of these reasons. Linkedin got banned in the country because they refused to share the private information of the users with the government.
The Yarovaya law in the country imposes various restrictions on the internet usage which includes the online services which use data encryption to allow the government agencies to access the content wrapped under the encryption cover.
The Russian government is also infamous for controlling the media and other avenues of information in the country.
Internet, being a beacon of information for users across the world, also faced the wrath of the Russian government.
Roskomnadzor started with the banning of content involving crimes against children and the hateful content which is something that all the governments should do. But sooner they started targeting foreign media outlets.
The organization started putting the websites of these media agencies in the blacklist, which means that the ISPs across the country were not to allow users access to these websites.
The internet blacklist of Russia contains the list of all the websites and services which have been banned by the Russian government for one reason or another.
The ISPs have been prohibited to allows the users to access these websites.
The media outlets were just the beginning, and sooner websites representing different categories on the internet came under the radar of Roskomnadzor.
Any content which was incoherent with the ideologies of the communist government of the nation got banned, and the website containing such content ended up on the blacklist.
There are numerous websites on the Russian blacklist, and most of them are there because the website consists of some content which does not mix well with what the Russian government thinks.
The official body would cite various reasons for banning even the simplest of the websites and applications in the country. One such example is the messaging app called Telegram.
They banned it stating that it was being used for encouraging terrorism in the country.
The rise and fall of VPNs in Russia?
The government was shrinking the internet in the country and by banning all kinds of websites in the country including the ones which stream content such as movies web series.
The situation was a nightmare for the Russian sports fans as well as they were deprived of the telecast of a lot of the matches played outside the country.
This is the time when VPN services started gaining some popularity and friction in the country.
The Russian people turned to VPN services to counter the data retention laws in the region. This led to a situation where the VPN services saw incredible growth in the number of subscribers in the country.
The VPN services allowed the Russian netizens to experience a free and open internet. They now had to access to all the content that they love on the internet and a lot more.
But the Russian government had some other thoughts when it came to internet usage, and they intervened to spoil the party for all the people using the VPN services.
The government introduced a few changes in the already existing law to which made all the VPN services illegal in the country if the services did not conform within the government guidelines.
These government guidelines for the VPN services were something which would defy the whole meaning of a VPN service.
The government would allow only those VPN services to function within the country which would give the Russian government, access to all the content stored inside the VPN servers.
The VPN services also need to store the data related to the online activities of the users and also comply with the government’s blacklisting policies.
Complying with the blacklisting policies would mean that the VPN service can no longer provide access to any of the blacklisted websites to the users.
If a VPN service follows all these restrictions within the country, only then it will be deemed illegal in the nation.
Let us just boil down the above few lines for you. A VPN is legal in Russia only if it stores information related to online activities of the user, share them with the government, and does not allow access to the geo-restricted content in the region.
This has to be the biggest joke of the century, and nothing can mock the online freedom of citizens more than the Russian laws. Okay, maybe the Chinese laws can, but that is a topic of discussion for a different article altogether.
In order to make sure that the citizens don’t get to know much about the VPN services, the Russian government made it illegal, both for an organization as well as for an individual, to the share the links for a VPN service or advertise it.
It is considered a criminal offense if someone or something is found advertising a VPN service in the country. The government imposes hefty fines on such people and organizations.
The Russian government seems to be leaving no stone unturned to stop the VPN services from working in the country.
The situation seems very dull when it comes to the online freedom of the citizens in Russia. But this is not the first time in history that a government has tried to curtail the right to information of the citizens.
There have been many such attempts by various authoritarian governments in the past, but the citizens somehow have always been able to find a way around the roadblocks and get what is rightfully theirs.
Something similar seems to be going on in Russia as well. Even though the laws pertaining to the matters related to VPN services in the country are very strict, the Russian authorities have not been quite vigilant with the implementation of these laws.
When the law related to illegalizing of VPN services on non-conformation with the government guidelines was introduced, a lot of the VPN serviced refused to go with the law and share the user’s information with the authorities.
The government went on to ban a lot of these VPN services and take control of their servers in the country. But those were only a few of the VPN services being used in the country.
There are still a lot of VPN services which are functioning in the Russian cyberspace. It is not that these services have used any illegal means to achieve the role. They just happen to be providing services in the country even before the implementation of the law which makes VPN illegal.
The services have not gone on to surrender their resources, and it is now up to the government to take any sort of action they deem necessary.
How to choose the best VPN for Russia
We do not intend to encourage anyone to go against the local laws of a country and get involved in the activities which have been prohibited by the government.
However, we also want to discuss what should be the ideal qualities of VPN service intended for use in Russia.
Most of this discussion can be centered around the fact that any server which falls within the Russian territory can be taken into the custody by the Russian authorities at any time.
So, ideally, the VPN service should not have a server within the country. The user should also try to ensure that he/she does not connect to a server within the country as it may get compromised by the government.
The other feature which the VPN service needs to have if it needs to provide a few servers in Russia as well is that it should not have a strict no-logs policy.
This policy would ensure that even if the server gets compromised or confiscated by the authorities, there won’t be any data leakage. And the data leakage can be easily prevented if there is no data to start with in the first place.
Reliable and robust encryption along with the use of a secure protocol, need to be the other qualities of the VPN service. One can expect various breaching attempts in such a cyberspace, and therefore, there should be no shortcuts when it comes to security measures on the service.
One very crucial feature that a VPN service should have to function in a country like Russia is an internet kill switch.
A kill switch is a feature on VPN services which helps prevent the leakage of user’s online activities on the internet. Its functioning is very simple to understand. All it does is that it stops the internet traffic from the user’s device if the VPN connection fails.
The implications can be severe if the data leaks on the internet without the encryption and reaches the authorities.
Deep packet inspection is the method used by various restrictive firewalls which detect and stop any VPN traffic from getting into the country.
However, there are certain proxy technologies which can bypass these restrictive firewalls and their deep packet inspections as well. A VPN service which uses such proxy technologies is ideal for use in a country like Russia as it will be able to bypass the geo restrictions very easily.
The top picks
Now that we have discussed so much about the VPN service ideal for such a region let us go through some of the VPN services which do exhibit the discussed features.
The service comes with a free 7 days trial and have huge concentration of servers in Europe including Eastern Europe. That’s one of the factor you may want to consider for signing up.
Apart from many former Soviet Union (USSR) server locations, three server locations are also available in Russia itself. Now that’s something strange since Russia doesn’t allow VPN and have official banned. So Zenmate probably have some ways to overcome this issue. Nevertheless, It is indeed one of the ideal option to sign up.
The service has a kill switch, and the user can experience high-speed internet even after he/she is using the VPN service.
This VPN service is frequently ranked among the best VPN services available to users across the world. The server network is as impressive as it gets and the security on the service is second to none.
The service also offers server locations in Russian region as well as many other former Soviet Union (USSR) locations such as Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia and Armenia among others.
All the Russian location(s) according to official website supports all the platforms so as far as Security or Privacy is concerned, you can use them worry free!
With more than five thousand server locations across the world, NordVPN offers abundant options to bypass the geo restrictions.
The special features such as double VPN and cybersec on the service make it even more appealing to the users. It can obfuscate VPN usage as well which helps in getting through the deep packet inspection of the restrictive firewalls.
NordVPN has more than 60 server locations and offers more than 5400 servers. They also offer server locations in Russia and Proximity. Since Russia is a largest country in the world, server locations within the country as well as outside matters a lot. Official website suggest there are currently 20+ servers and all of them supports all the protocols as we also have mentioned in the review.
As we have mentioned in our review about VyprVPN, the service comes with option to choose from nearly 200k IPs from 70 locations all over the world.
As we have mentioned earlier, Since this is a very large nation, it requires multiple server locations within or close to user’s location. They have servers in Russia as well as many neighboring countries such as Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine on one side as well as Japan and Macau on the other side. So VyprVPN can be one easiest way to unblock censored or blocked sites.
The service is among the best in the field of streaming content. The user gets to binge watch his/her favorite series without the need to worry about the security on the service.
It also allows the user to have a VPN connection simultaneously on seven devices which gives a lot of freedom to the user when it comes to accessibility.