After continuous decline throughout the 1980s, surveillance-defined estimates of the incidence of syphilis in Russia have shown a rapid and substantial increase during the 1990s. The reasons for this epidemic are unclear, but must be sought among changes both in sexual behaviour and in the patterns of provision, use, and effectiveness of diagnostic, treatment, and contact tracing services. High incidence of sexually transmitted disease causes correspondingly high levels of morbidity and suffering as well as significant health-care and other economic costs. Our current understanding suggests that the transmissibility of HIV is increased by infection with sexually transmitted disease. The syphilis epidemic together with changes in sexual behaviour, increased travel and migration, and rapid increases in injecting drug use may create the conditions for an epidemic of sexually acquired HIV infection in Russia that substantially outstrips those encountered in most Western European countries.