Russia has the lowest life expectancy among industrialised countries, but little is known about other health outcomes and determinants of health in the Russian population. Here we report a cross-sectional study in a national sample of the Russian population of social and psychosocial determinants of two self-reported health indicators: self-rated health (shown to predict mortality in prospective studies) and physical functioning (validated against more objective health measures). A multi-stage sample of the Russian population aged 18 years and more was interviewed (n=1599, response rate 66%). The questionnaire included political attitudes, social and economic circumstances, psychosocial factors, smoking, alcohol consumption, self-rated health and physical functioning (from the SF36 instrument). Scores of perceived control over life and over one's health were calculated from 6 and 3 questions, respectively. Data were analysed in logistic regression for two dichotomised outcomes: poor self-rated health (worse than average) and low physical functioning (less than 60% of maximum). Overall, 25% of subjects rated their health as worse than average; this is substantially more than in western countries. Perceived control over life was strongly related to both outcomes; age- and sex-adjusted OR for 1 standard deviation increase in control were 0.60 (95% CI 0.52-0.69) for poor self-rated health and 0.67 (0.57-0.81) for low physical functioning. Adjustment for a battery of other factors reduced these estimates only slightly. Associations between control over one's health and both outcomes were also significant, but weaker and attenuated in multivariate models. Material deprivation was also strongly related to both outcomes. Education was inversely related to self-rated health, and unmarried men reported poor physical functioning substantially more often. Subjects not approving the economic changes reported poorer health but this association was removed by adjustment for socioeconomic factors and control. Subjects who could not rely on informal social structures when in problems reported worse health; this effect largely persisted in multivariate analyses. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that poor health status in Russia is related to dysfunction of social structures, socioeconomic deprivation, and lack of perceived control. The absence of informal social networks, vital for maintaining general welfare, seems to affect adversely self-rated health. Deprivation and low perceived control may be important mediators between the broad social environment and health in populations undergoing transition and can provide a useful framework for many biological and behavioural factors. Prospective studies are needed to address the issue of temporality and reporting bias, the major problems in interpreting these findings.