Getting a Visa. This is based on experience submitting visas in USA, but it should be useful in many other countries as well.
Visitors coming for a scientific conference should apply for a ``Humanitarian Visa'', even though that name sounds like you are going on a charity mission. Starting in mid-2011, all Russian consulates require that visa applications be filled out electronically from a website based in Moscow (there should be a link to it from the consulate's website), but give a direct URL to visitors anyway as they plan their trip. The online form has lots of bad English errors and requires you to register at the site with a username and password that the website creates for you.
Emphasize that the username and password ought to be written down somewhere so it is not forgotten (at least until the visa is received, when you really can forget about it, unless perhaps you lose your visa while in Russia?).
Part of the online visa application includes stating the date on which you will submit a printout of the visa application at a Russian consulate in person (or with the help of a courier) with your payment. It is mildly annoying that you need to decide what day you will show up at the consulate at the time you submit the visa application online. Make sure not to propose going to the consulate on a national holiday for your country or for Russia, since the consulate will celebrate by being closed; a list of such holidays will be on the consulate's website.
The Russian consulate websites lay out carefully exactly what information is needed as part of the Humanitarian visa application. Read your chosen consulate's websites for the latest accurate information and make sure to arrive at the consulate with everything the consulate requests. In particular, you may be required to provide a xerox copy of the personal pages of information in the front of your passport. If you show up at the consulate without that copy of the passport pages you will have to find a place with a copier (the consulate probably doesn't offer copying services and the nearest copy store, for example, is not a short walk from the consulate). Note when the working hours of the visa desk at the consulate are and aim to show up an hour before they open if you want a shot at getting in bright and early (= being able to avoid a long line).
Your passport must be valid for up to 6 months after your trip to Russia, so if that's not the case then get a new passport before submitting your visa application, since the passport has to be given to the consulate as part of the application.
To get a Humanitarian visa, the consulate's website should indicate how much you need to pay.
At the time you submit the visa to the consulate, you must give a payment by a money order: no cash or credit cards are accepted. After you hand over your application materials to the consulate officer you will get a receipt from the consulate with a pick-up day listed. You must bring the receipt to the consulate later to pick up their passport, which will have the visa inside.
Ideally get the visa far enough in advance that you can comfortably buy airline tickets after securing the visa.
When filling out the visa application, for the start and end dates use the dates (in day/month/year format) which are on the invitation document from Russia, even though those dates may be for a longer period than the actual dates of the visit itself. In fact it may be convenient to request a visa invitation document whose start and end dates are a few days before and after the actual trip that is planned. (Note: I submitted my visa application to a consulate after the start date of the visa from the invitation document and it was no problem.)
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