Russia has just overtaken Germany as the market with the highest number of unique visitors online in Europe, says comScore in its September Internet usage study released yesterday. The digital statistics company counted as many as 50.81 million users aged 15 and older in Russia, compared to 50.14 million in Germany, 42.35 in France and 37.2 in the UK.

With an average of 22.4 hours per month, however, Russians spent less time on line than the Germans and the French, who spend and average of 24.4 hours and 27.2 hours online per month, respectively. The highest user engagement in Europe was found in the UK with 35.6 hours of Internet use per month, comScore found.

The total Russian Internet audience reaches approximately 80 million users, if counting users aged 12 and up, with as many as 60 million domestic users, according to TNS Russia and the Public Opinion Foundation, and the remaining 20 million from among Russian speaking users in the former Soviet republics, Western Europe, Israel and North America.

Russia still lags behind most other European countries in terms of penetration, however, with roughly one half of the adult population connected, according to the Public Opinion Foundation. In the spring of this year, the ratio of Internet users to the total population reached 82% in the UK, 80% in Germany and 70% in France, according to Internet World Stats.

Internet penetration rate in Russia 1995-2045 (source: Russian Academy of Sciences)

Internet penetration began significantly later in Russia than in advanced European countries, with a mere 10% of the adult population connected in 2003 and 20% in 2007. The country is catching up fast, however, with an up to 25% annual growth measured in the last few years.

According to Andrey Davydov of the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Internet penetration in Russia could reach 75% in 2020 and 90% around 2030.