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Thanks Del, Siri and Bev.
I traveled to the USSR just before the collapse of the communist government, and things were pretty messed up.
In all my travels except China and the USSR, I traveled 2nd class solo, making up my itineraries as I went. Twenty+ years ago, it was extremely difficult for an American to do that in those two countries.
In China, I led seven tours of American groups (using national and local guides). For the USSR I had to join such a tour.
Independent travel is now much more possible to either country. There is, however, another serious consideration- the language barrier. I don't care what the news tells us, I seriously doubt if many people in those areas speak English- except in the first-class tourist places. If you were- for example- to take public transport from a cheap Moscow hotel to the rail station to take a second-class train to St Petersburg, I would be shocked if you could do it with any kind of ease whatsoever.
The idea that "everybody now speaks English" is pure fiction. There are very few countries where that can be said, and China and Russia aren't among them .