A first-half strike by Viktor Fayzulin and Roman Shirokov's late penalty sent Northern Ireland to defeat in their opening World Cup qualifier.
In former England boss Fabio Capello's first competitive match in charge of Russia, Fayzulin buried Alexander Kerzhakov's cross in the 30th minute.
The penalty came 13 minutes from time when Blackpool defender Craig Cathcart shoved Alexander Kokorin over.
Roman Shirokov sent Roy Carroll the wrong way with the spot-kick.
Soon after that came Northern Ireland's best effort as Gareth McAuley's header from a Chris Brunt corner was cleared off the line.
So, for the seventh time in the last nine World Cup or Euro qualifying campaigns, Northern Ireland have fallen to defeat and they can have little complaint as they did little to suggest a surprise result.
It was Michael O'Neill's first competitive match as Northern Ireland manager and he will be all too aware that his second must end in victory against Luxembourg in Belfast on Tuesday night.
O'Neill sprang a surprise by giving Derby County's Jamie Ward his first international start on the left of midfield, and goalkeeper Carroll of Olympiakos was favoured ahead of Nottingham Forest's Lee Camp.
It was always going to be a tough opening as Russia are expected to be Portugal's main competitors in Group F, but Northern Ireland contained them fairly effectively up until the opening goal.
The only real lapse came in the 16th minute when West Brom defender McAuley caught Vladimir Bystrov late in the penalty area. Luckily for O'Neill's men, a spot-kick was not awarded which was definitely a let-off for the visitors.
Not surprisingly, Northern Ireland's chances up front were limited. They did force a couple of corners, and from one of them, McAuley headed wide at the far post.
Russia's breakthrough goal came in the 30th minute and it was a classy finish from Fayzulin after Northern Ireland were carved open.
A nicely-weighted pass by Vladimir Bystrov found Kerzhakov, who squared the ball for the onrushing Fayzulin to send a first-time effort into the top corner.
That visibly lifted the Russians and they almost scored again soon afterwards but Carroll saved Shirokov's shot with his feet.
There was an injury worry at half-time as defender Jonny Evans hobbled towards the dressing room having appeared to tweak a hamstring.
The Manchester United player came out for the second half but did not seem to be moving completely freely.
In the second half Russia seemed content to build-up patiently as Northern Ireland concentrated on keeping plenty of men behind the ball.
However, O'Neill's men were almost undone when Vasili Berezutskiy sent a header wide of the far post.
The game lacked incident for a spell until the penalty effectively sealed Northern Ireland's fate.
Cathcart appeared to lean into substitute Kokorin who went over, and Shirokov calmly side-footed in.