Many applications derive their character set encoding parameters from global variables set in the Operating System. In Windows 2000 and XP, Russian Language support can be added in the Regional Options, which will enable the use of Russian in Windows Office applications, but often won't help much with other applications. ArcView and ArcGIS are no exception.
First, please go to Paul Godoryansky's webpage with detailed instructions on How To Install and Use Cyrillic Fonts. These instructions are extremely clear and easy to follow. Once you have the Russian fonts, you can open up the DBF and ACCESS files containing the Russian placenames and read the Cyrillic characters without any problem.
Now for those who want to read Russian within GIS applications, the following sections describe what we have attempted. Although ArcView does have a codepage setting function, we have been unable to successfully use it to enable Russian characters in table views, or other functions.
Other workarounds are commonly used by Russian software developers, but these involve changes to the Windows Registry and should NOT be attempted by users who are not fully confident of their registry editing skills. For those brave enough to use regedit, we have found that the renaming of several resources in the NLS section of the registry will trick the ArcGIS 8.x application into thinking that the native language is Russian, and all Cyrllic characters can be viewed in Map View functions. To do this, the following changes need to be made:
1250 = c_1251.nls
1251 = c_1251.nls
1252 = c_1251.nls
WARNING! don't do this if you don't know how to use Windows Registry. The operating system may be trashed by a small mistake.
Also Note: by making these changes, other applications will also believe that the native codepages of their contents are Russian win1251, therefore you will not want to do this unless using the Russian in GIS is critical to your work. Finally, we should mention that if the above changes are made, Chinese Characters will NO LONGER be viewable in ArcGIS, even with NJStar, because ArcGIS itself interprets the characters as Russian.
The information about how to read Cyrillic was gathered from various Russian websites, including one in slightly difficult to read English here.