VPN usage in Russia up 167% since Ukraine invasion

Illustration of VPN on phone

Life in Russia right now must be tough.

Not only is the country controlled by an insane dictator who has launched a hostile invasion of a neighbouring country, but he has also clamped down on freedoms inside Russia to a level not seen since the darkest days of the Soviet Union.

Inevitably, online freedoms have been severely curtailed and with media freedoms similarly restricted.

It is little wonder that more and more people inside Russia are looking for ways to break out of the Putin regime’s censorship and learn the truth about the people inside the Kremlin and the war they have started.

That’s why the findings of Atlas VPNs VPN Adoption Index for 2022 will come as little surprise to many.

What the VPN Adoption Index reveals about Russian VPN use

The VPN Adoption Index 2022 found that VPNs were downloaded in Russia a whopping 33.54 million times in 2022. That is an increase of more than 12.5 million downloads and represents a year-on-year growth of 167%.

That’s seems huge, but if you go back just two years, the number of Russian VPN downloads was a mere 4.9 million, showing that over the past few years, the restrictions put in place by the Putin regime have forced the hands of a lot more Russian people.

It is estimated that as many as a quarter of all Russian citizens now use a VPN and have an app from one VPN provider or another downloaded onto their smartphone, tablet, or computer.

Interestingly, the Index digs deeper still and can identify the precise moment when this spike in VPN use in Russia first began.

It was on and around the 11th March 2022 which was the date that the Putin regime announced the blocking of Facebook and Instagram, claiming that these platforms and their parent company Meta were “extremist”.

It is also worth noting that this spike in VPN usage comes despite the fact that the Russian internet regulator, the Rozkomnadzor, is currently attempting to enforce a ban on many VPNs that do not store data in Russian and make it available to the authorities there.

As Atlas VPN notes, the Rozkomnadzor sent more than 12,800 requests to Google between March 13 and March 25, asking it to delete URLs in accordance with the nation’s 2017 “VPN law.”

It is a testament to the determination of the Russian people to know the truth about their dictatorship and its illegal war and the impossibility of any regime attempting to stop its citizens from using VPNs, that this spike in VPN usage has come despite Russia’s attempted VPN ban.

Other notable VPN index revelation

While the spike in VPN use in Russia is the headlines story from the 2022 VPN adoption index, there are some other notable revelations.

The Middle East dominates the top of the index with five of the top ten countries with the highest percentage of VPN users among their populations coming from the region.

Top of the pile is the United Arab Emirates, where more than 43% of people are thought to use a VPN. Qatar comes second (39%), Saudi Arabia fourth (27%), Oman fifth (26%), and Kuwait ninth (19%).

This could be down to the high levels of online restrictions that internet users in that region face or the high levels of immigrant workers in their population. Most likely, it is a combination of these two factors.

Singapore sits third on the list with a 37% VPN usage rate. Again a large immigrant population and fairly severe internet restrictions are likely to be the main factors in this.

But it is the other three countries on the list that might raise the most eyebrows.

Western European nations in the top 10

Sixth and seventh on the 2022 VPN adoption index are the Netherlands (24%) and Luxembourg (23%). These are two countries that have introduced some online surveillance laws but are generally considered free and liberal.

Even more eye-opening for us here at VPNCompare is to see the UK place tenth with 18% of people using a VPN. The UK does have some hugely intrusive online laws, not least the Investigatory Powers Act which forces ISPs to harvest all user data.

But compared to many of the countries on the list, the UK can be deemed a safe and free place to go online, much as the Netherlands and Luxembourg can.

This suggests that it is awareness about online security and privacy issues and a willingness of people to use a VPN as part of their suite of online tools that is the main factor in these countries.

We are proud to take a small slither of praise for getting the UK’s VPN usage up into the top ten thanks to the work that the team here does to promote the benefits of VPNs.

But an 18% uptake rate is still far lower than we would like to see and hopefully it will not be too long before the UK VPN adoption rate is climbing higher still.

Author: David Spencer

Cyber-security & Technology Reporter, David, monitors everything going on in the privacy world. Fighting for a less restricted internet as a member of the VPNCompare team for over 7 years.

Away from writing, he enjoys reading and politics. He is currently learning Mandarin too... slowly.

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