One of the most comprehensive attempts at biodiversity conservation in Russia and the former Soviet Union has been the establishment of an extensive network of protected natural areas. Among all types of protected areas in Russia, zapovedniks (strictly protected scientific preserves) have been the most effective in protecting biodiversity at the ecosystem scale. Russia has 101 zapovedniks with a total area of 34.3 million ha, representing 2% of Russian territory. The mission of zapovedniks is to protect native biodiversity and ecosystem processes as well as to facilitate the study of natural ecosystem processes and functions. In this manuscript, we provide a brief history of Russian ecosystem preservation and outline the goals and administrative organization of the Russian zapovednik system as it currently functions, as well as the characteristics, problems, and values of the system.