Starting July 1, visa applications in the US and probably elsewhere, require filling out the application on a Russian based web site. The information is recorded but the form can still printed by the applicant. for their records. The data is forwarded to the specific consulate the applicant specifies. The processing status can be monitored as the application is accepted, processed and visa approved.
The web site requires registration to access the forms or account info.
When the presidents of Russia and the US met earlier this summer they signed an agreement to work towards easier visa processing and longer duration. These sorts of photo-op announcements occur all the time and the bureaucrats usually come up with ways to delay or sidetrack any changes.
Apparently this one really has been fast tracked. A new policy of visa applications, without the need to get invitations, will be unveiled in a couple weeks. A new 3 year multiple-entry visa will be available for both countries, for those who have visited before. Actually, the US has been issuing multi-year visas for years to Russian citizens.
Several newspapers have published the changes and more information will be available in coming days.