The tendency to give those Dirty Commies technologies far beyond their Western counterparts. After the end of the Cold War this is something of a Discredited Trope and usually only played for laughs, and "abandoned Soviet experiments" seems to be a fairly common trope.
Not that the US is left out, as long as both sides are in a Lensman Arms Race.
It is worth noting that historically the most recognizable disciplines of any super science—genetics and cybernetics—received a poor start in the USSR as the Party proclaimed those "false sciences" for being "bourgeois" (yes, this makes about as much sense as Those Wacky Nazis dismissing Einsteinian relativity and the modern theory of the atom as "Jewish physics"). This stance was lifted after Khruschev took power and USSR's first computer was finished in the mid-50s, but it was too late to successfully catch up with the US. The Soviets, however, loved Nuclear Power—the world's first nuclear power plant to generate electricity for a power grid went online in USSR—so there are some roots for the trope to grow from. Of course, the inconsistencies can be handwaved by the means of an Alternate Universe, as Command & Conquer: Red Alert testifies.
All in all, the Soviets had a mixed record as far as science goes - remember, this is the country that put the first man in space, but also brought the world Lysenkoism, the abuse of psychiatry for "rehabilitation" purposes and Chernobyl. The USSR pioneered modern corrective eye surgery used worldwide, yet struggled with more efficient steel manufacturing they had been among the first to experiment with, well after other countries made easy of it.
Other that these examples, which could be largely written down to the Party bigwigs' Executive Meddling, Soviet science was largely on the par with its counterpart, and this trope is largely borne out of its relative isolation. Much of the Soviet research concerned military or dual-purpose application, and Soviets were notoriously secretive about anything military-related.
It also didn't help that western intelligence-gatherers were absolutely terrified of Soviet military technology getting ahead of theirs, and tended to react to the overall secrecy by assuming the worst discrepancies possible and grossly overestimating even when they had solid information.
Foreign languages also weren't a high-priority subject in the Soviet educational system, so many researchers, even if their field wasn't classified, still were unable to publish their results in the foreign journals or even so much as read them, forcing them to rely on the dedicated translator and isolating them even more just as the science was becoming truly international.
The New Russia, sadly, won't be able to have anything vastly superior due to economic problems and lack of funding, so no, "Russian Superscience" is not a likely prospect and wouldn't be anytime soon. Contemporary Russian electronics, however, don't lag behind their Western counterparts much, though the opinions on this tend to differ.
The fall of the Soviet Union is often used as a reason why long-abandoned Soviet Superscience is once again rearing its ugly head, it having been forgotten about, lost in the confusion or sold off by corrupt handlers in the post-Soviet restructuring of Russian society.
This trope is a form of Historical Villain Upgrade if the Soviets are portrayed as villains in the story.
Stupid Jetpack Hitler is a Sister Trope, giving Those Wacky Nazis things like Powered Armor and Cool Airships, while Ghostapo could be a "cousin trope", in that it's a more mystical version of Stupid Jetpack Hitler. All of these are culture-specific sub-disciplines of Mad Science. See also Closed Cities, which is where Soviet Superscience is created; they range from ordinary cities declared off-limits to foreigners to full-fledged Black Mesa style complexes hidden in the lost mountains of Siberia.
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Full Metal Panic! is set in an alternate reality where the Cold War never ended and both the United States and the Soviet Union have developed Arm Slave technology.
Not only that, the Arm Slave technology is canonically a product of Soviet Superscience ... albeit accidentally. The Whispered, from which the technology to build Arm Slaves came from, were created from a certain Russian-funded lab-base involved in Soviet Superscience of all sorts. Specifically, the Whispered were people born around the world right around the few minutes one of the labs (of the Quantum "see into the future" variety) had an accident and went out of control
The Marvel Universe has its share of Soviet experiments gone awry, particularly from the days of the Cold War.
Crimson Dynamo is a Soviet scientist who invents an armored suit which also allows to control electricity.
Soviet scientists trying to get a leg up on American engineering with bizarre creations like Mongu and the Titanium Man formed the glut of Iron Man's original rogue's gallery.
Boris Bullski's Titanium Man armor even had the ability to condense itself down to credit card-size, for easy carrying; even Tony Stark's armors couldn't do that. However, after Bullski was injured and dependent on the armor's life-support systems, the transformation circuit was activated with him inside, and the card subsequently ripped to pieces. He was later reconstituted, but the shock had driven him insane.
The very first opponent The Incredible Hulk fought (other than the US Army), was "The Gargoyle", a Soviet scientist warped into a deformed, large-headed, super-intelligent dwarf by exposure to radiation. His son, "The Gremlin", was almost identical in looks and abilities and, among other things, created the high-tech gear (including Powered Armor) used by the Soviet Super-Troopers (precursors to the Soviet Super-Soldiers).
While Bullski was missing, the Gremlin built his own Titanium Man armor... and then made the mistake of incorporating Tony Stark's technology into it (although he was given said tech by the Soviet government, who'd presumably acquired it from Justin Hammer, who'd had it stolen from Stark).
The Ultimate Marvel series "Ultimate Nightmare" took place almost entirely in a complex dedicated to this.
Blake and Mortimer: In "SOS Meteors", it's revealed that the Soviet Bloc has developed weather control technology, which it uses to destabilize the climate of Western Europe in order to prepare for a military invasion. Why the Soviets didn't instead use it to improve their own weather is anyone's guess.
The first comic in the Global Frequency series was about a soviet sleeper agent who lost control of a chip implanted in his brain. The chip was supposed to augment his natural ability to teleport objects. This would have allowed the agent to teleport a hidden nuclear weapon to his location — with himself ground zero. Global Frequency was formed to deal with exactly these kinds of strange cold war "unexploded bombs".
The obscure noir superhero series The Winter Men imagines a massive military-industrial operation throughout Soviet history to build mechanical and biological superbeings. It doesn't work, but not quite for the reason you'd expect.
In Dr. Strangelove the Soviets build a Doomsday Device after the U.S. had already considered a similar device ("Our source was the New York Times"). They neglected to tell anyone about it. Strangelove subverts the trope when he explains that the Doomsday Machine is not a great feat because it's within the means of even the smallest nuclear power.
Firefox has the Soviets build a new superplane, the MiG-31 (not to be confused with the Real Life MiG-31). This plane is capable of Mach 6 and has thought-launched weapons, technologies that still don't fully exist today.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has Irina Spalko and her fellow Communists searching for the Crystal Skulls. It is mentioned that Stalin has a program investigating psychics, which isn't actually all that far-fetched; the US investigated possible paranormal things themselves. Also, the Soviet search party in the jungle rides a huge sci-fi-ish truck that clears its path by mowing down trees like grass.
The Hunt for Red October is a pretty well-done thriller about, well, the hunt for the Red Oktober, a highly-advanced Soviet ballistic missile submarine, the so-called "stealth-bomber" of submarines. Instead of the traditional propeller-driven sub, this one had one that sucked in water, compressed it, and shot it out, like a jet engine. The result is a sub with nearly zero-sound, meaning active Sonar will be almost the only thing able to detect it; making it virtually impossible to track, due to the danger of using active Sonar often. That doesn't stop Seaman Jones from inventing a way to track it though.
The 2005 Russian mockumentaryPervye Na Lune (First on the Moon) shows "proof" that the Soviets actually sent a man to the Moon and back... in 1938...
In WarGames, the simulated war at one point includes twenty-two Typhoon-class submarines departing Petropavlovsk. In fact, the Soviets only ever built six Typhoon-class submarines, only one of which was in existence at the time the film was made. Given U.S. intelligence's tendency to overestimate Soviet military strength (see Real Life), it could be Joshua making the mistake in-universe.
Iron Man 2: Anton Vanko, a Soviet defector, co-developed the arc reactor technology with Tony's father in the 1960s.
In X-Men: First Class, the telepathy blocking helmet that stymies Xavier in every movie is apparently of Russian make.
In Dale Brown's books, while the former-Soviets-now-Russians needed to reverse-engineer American tech for most of their new toys, they did come up with powerful anti-satellite lasers on their own.
Pops up in some of Charles Stross' stories. In the novelette A Colder War, set in an Alternate History where the Cold War was fought with the powers of the Great Old Ones, the Soviets not only weaponize shoggoths and deployed them in Afghanistan, but they have an ultimate doomsday weapon called 'K-Thulu' in a giant concrete bunker in the Ukraine. Missile Gap, set in a world where Earth of 1962 was duplicated and laid on a gigantic disc, has the Soviet Union exploring the new world in a giant nuclear-powered ekranoplan.
Similarly, one of the MacGuffins at the core of The Jennifer Morgue is a "Gravedust" rig on a sunken Russian submarine that British intelligence believe was used to seek guidance from recently-deceased Politburo members in case the West struck first. It turns out to be built to dial up something much, much older...
Oleg Divov's Zombie Trail trilogy is all about Soviet "psychotronic" weapons and their Gone Horribly Wrong side effects. The original Project came to be after an American misinformation campagin led the Soviet leadership to believe that the US was experimenting with Psychic Powers. Unintentionally, the resulting Soviet psychic program bore fruit. A "psychotronic cannon" was built that could be used to Mind Control people on a massive scale. However, it had to be operated by an extremely powerful psychic. In order to create one (or more), the Children's Program was set up that involved subjecting 1000 children to radiation, hoping the resulting mutation would be psychic in nature. It was a near-complete disaster, as all but 5 children died. Some of the survivors, though, did become the coveted super-psychics, although they refused to fire the cannon. Additional experiments were conducted on metropolitan scale by building powerful mind-control generators in major Soviet cities that would eliminate all dissent. They worked for a while, until interdimensional holes started opening, letting in Energy Beings that took over humans and became so-called "zombies" (of the fast variety). You'd think the experiments would stop in a What Have I Done fashion. No such luck. The third novel reveals that the modern-day Russian version of the Project succeeded in subliminaly influencing the world population into thinking that everything Russian is cool.
Red Plenty by Francis Spufford is an Alternate History novel in which the Soviet Union decides to outdo capitalism by creating a proper planned economy with the help of computers and cybernetics. The novel is based on actual work being done at the time behind the Iron Curtain but, as in real life, cynical realism triumphs over communist idealism and only token reforms are made.
The Russian multi-writer series called Death Zone is about the aftermath of a strange event involving a Negative Space Wedgie that wipes out several major Russian cities and creates five anomalous areas roughtly 50 kilometers in diameter separated from the rest of the world by gravity bubbles. One of the novels eventually reveals that the so-called Catastrophe was, in fact, caused by the second activation of a device that was originally developed by a Soviet scientist to allow instantaneous hyperdimentional transportation. The first activation of the device on April 26, 1986, caused the 4th reactor of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant to meltdown.
Discussed and averted in The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross. Unlike the Nazis and the West, the Soviets never really got into the occult intelligence business because state philosophies were counterproductive in that regard: state-sponsored atheism contradicts the requirement of believing in demonic intelligences beyond our spacetime, and preventing development of computers makes "magic" (which is really applied higher mathematics, physics, and computer science) much more difficult. After the fall of communism however, the Russians caught up fast.
In The Day of the Triffids, the narrator/protagonist advances the theory that the eponymous killer plants were created by Soviet bioengineers, but whether he is correct or not is never revealed.
The Scrambler (a radio-wave weapon that destroys voluntary muscle control) in Ralph Peters' The War in 2020.
Recently, played straight in the Fringe episode "Earthling".
Well, not exactly. Walter does mentions the Russians were up to their own Fringe Science during The Cold War, but the Monster of the Week in the episode was NOT their creation, but rather something that infected and bonded with one of their cosmonauts.
In the first episode of The Tick live action TV series, the Tick and Arthur must thwart the Red Scare, a robot made in the 1970s by the Soviet Union, programed to destroy the US President. Unaware of the present year however, the Red Scare seeks to destroy former President Carter.
The JAG epispde "Iron Coffin" features the supercavitating Russian torpedo VA-111 Shkval (see real life below), which for an uninformed viewer might come across as pure fiction. However, the Shkval in the episode has a serious design flaw as it retargets the submarine which launched it. The Americans have observed it before, but the Russians thinks the Americans are interfering.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. features the Soviet C-Consciousness project, which was an elaborate attempt to manipulate mankind's consciousness to eliminate suffering and wars. Needless to say, the experiment had Gone Horribly Wrong.
Within the game, there's the Gauss Rifle, the game's Infinity+1 Sword. Made by Soviet/Russian scientists, it'll kill just about anything with one or two shots, but it's hellishly heavy, only available very late in the game, and getting ammo for it is difficult (in Shadow of Chernobyl, finding ammo means looting it off dead bodies, in Clear Sky it doesn't appear, and in Call of Pripyat you can buy substandard ammunition from one of the technicians).
Don't forget the mancannon-equipped amphibious transports, which also function as AA support. They are quite capable of shooting the aforementioned armoured war bears. Talk about abnormal ammo...
A mention should also be made of the mind-control radio towers that drive the plot of Red Alert 2.
This is far less noticeable in the first Red Alert, without expansions, partially because it has far less superscience overall, and partly because the Allies aren't far behind in superscience, their teleporter balancing out a Soviet invincibility generator, leaving only the weaponized Tesla coil to shift the balance in the Soviets' favour (and even then, the Allied GPS system is arguably far enough into the future of the period for it to count as a sort of super-tech). The expansions added a lot more super-science, but on both sides, setting the trend for the future games: the Soviets have Superscience, but only slightly more than the Alliesnote Yes, that does mean Red Alert technically fails the "far beyond their Western counterparts" part of this trope's description..
One could argue that the Soviets are actually lagging behind technologically - a large amount of the "super-science" is more or less a redux of the prior game's technology - compared to the Allies, who between Red Alert 1 and 2, developed lasers, cloaking devices, and weather control. Red Alert 1 might play it straight, but essentially every game from 2 onwards might just count as a subversion. The Soviet super-tech is just crazier and more memorable than the Allies one.
It crosses over with Truth in Television, actually. The Allied tech is more advanced, but far more fragile, while the Soviet technology seems to be crazier, but also far more simple and sturdy. Allies use a highly precise laser, highly-advanced power plants, and a modular Macross Missile Massacre IFV, the Soviets use giant Tesla Coils, nuclear power plants, and a flak halftrack.
It should be noted that the Soviets were the first to have advanced cybernetics. They had Volkov and Chitzkoi, a pair of cyborgs who are devastating when micromanaged properly. Unfortunately, the Allies capture and meddling of them caused the Soviets to discontinue their cyborg program. Then in Red Alert 2, they got back into cybernetics with the Terror Drone, a small robot which is pure scary for ground forces. The Allies still didn't have any form of cybernetics. Its only until Yuri's Revenge do they finally get the Robot Tank and even then its primitive, as evident by the tank's need of a control centre to keep it functional as opposed to the independent Terror Drone (which can eat the Robot Tank inside out easily).
Singularity has quite a bit of this. The game's setting is a 1950s Soviet Area 51-like area with quite a bit of super science, including a weapon that can progress/rewind space-time.
Snatcher had the Soviets develop biological weapons, cryogenic sleep, and androids so advanced that the West didn't have an equal even decades later.
A rare non-Soviet example in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2; the Russians reverse engineer an American satellite component, which allows them to launch a massive trans-oceanic invasion of the US Mainland with complete surprise. Subverted in that they don't have tech beyond the Americans, they just cracked the American encryption codes.
In Metal Gear Solid 3, the presence of the IR Goggles and the NVGs in 1964 is explained as being due to the Russians being more advanced technologically. Your tech support even asks you to return the items to America for reverse engineering.
Not to mention the title Humongous Mecha of the game. The rest of the Metal Gears of the series were developed based off of the theories of a Soviet scientist.
Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri recycles this in space by bringing in a University of Planet faction, ostensibly just following a For Science! ideology, but actually being thoroughly Russian in terms of flavour.
The faction is led by Academician Prokhor Zakharov. "Academician" is a Soviet (and now Russian) equivalent to a Western "Doctor" or "Professor".
Not exaclty: it means "a member of the Academy of Sciences", and as such, as a specific title—it establishes that he or she possessing it is recognized by all state institutions, not just academia, as an authority in their field, similar to the British "Fellow of the Royal Society". The Academy of Science of the USSR set the general framework for dozens of other national academies worldwide, particularly in Eurasia, leading to the adoption of the title all over the world. The University of Planet is likely an Homage to unified academic institutions that have fallen by the wayside since the 1990s when many of them were defunded or dismantled.
Russian trashy FPSnote Russian shooters are cursed - there have been only a handful of good onesYou Are Empty is a weird Soviet-style Atom Punk story about psi-emitter designed to create a ''New Soviet Man'', but it has Gone Horribly Wrong, creating insane zombies. Though graphics are awful, and gameplay is generic and boring, the style and in-game videos are pretty interesting.
In Call of Duty: Black Ops this is played straight both in the main storyline and partially in the Nazi Zombies mini-game. In the story-line the Russians are able to weaponize a highly lethal toxin that has been shown to kill men in mere minutes and is not easily dispersed by wind making it an effective area denial weapon and weapon of mass destruction. Furthermore they have access to anachronistic weapons that won't be introduced until the 70s or 80s, (the Americans showcase this too though) have mastered drug-induced brainwashing so advanced that you can program a man to do anything that you desire even make Mason and/or Oswald kill John F. Kennedy, and have somehow found a way to create a base on the ocean floor without it being crushed from the sheer pressure it would faced with at such depths. Somewhat averted in the Nazi Zombies storyline as most of the technological achievements are actually achieved by Group 935 which is an international organization and have more or less equally introduced the same level of technological advancement to the Americans as they have to the Russians. However the Zombie map "Ascension" still showcases some pretty advanced technology on the Russians' part, they have created flying platforms, genetically enhanced monkeys, the Thunder Gun (a hand-held cannon that fires high-powered waves of compressed air) which contrary to Richtofen's beliefs was not made by Dr. Maxis but Dr. Gersh a Russian scientist, and Dr. Gersh as mentioned already created a small device which generates a miniature black hole.
The Secret World has a more "magical" version, of the "abandoned experiments" variety in the Transylvania zones. Two of the biggest projects included sending cosmonauts through a dimensional rift, and breeding Vampire/human hybrids as supersoldiers. Both projects were officially abandoned, but work continues independently at the time of the game, and both involve advanced technology of other forms (The rift project is controlled by an AI, for example.)
Awesomenauts has Yuri, a 1960s space race monkey shot into orbit with a jetpack. Disappearing into a warp field and turning into a radioactive genius, he gets lasers, builds a computer all while playing his Russian musical anthem and chatting with a deep accented voice. The American character? He's a cowboy!
The Tick had the Russians working on a sentient beard, so the US developed a mustache.
In the end, we cannot forget the example of Soviet Superscience that quite possibly defined the latter half of the 20th century: The plutonium-implosion bomb that detonated at 7:00am on the 29th of August, 1949, at Semipalatinsk in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. The bomb, developed five years quicker than the Anglo-US intelligence services believed possible, turned out to be 50% more destructive than the Soviet scientists had believed possible, as it destroyed one of the most elaborate nuclear test sites (a small mockup city, complete with metro system and a "garrison" of heavy military equipment and animals, was annihilated). Notably, the Soviet science teams made little use of the data they received from the Manhattan Project; their "Prince of Science", Igor Kurchatov, restricted the team to using the US designs only to check their work. The Soviet detonation had many names: RDS-1. Article 501. Joe-1. But it was the name the science teams gave to the test that will live in history: Pervaya molniya - "First Lighting" .
They would later use than knowledge to create the experimental RDS-220 Czar Bomba, whose explosion over Novaya Zemlya on October 30th 1961 was equivalent to 58 million tonnes of TNT. The Czar Bomba, the most powerful device ever made by man, produced a fireball eight kilometres in diameter, a mushroom cloud over seven times the height of Mount Everest, third-degree burns 70 miles away, a thermal pulse that reached 170 miles from ground zero, and a shockwave that was visible in the air 430 miles away. Villages hundreds of miles from the test site were destroyed, atmospheric focusing shattered windows as far away as Finland and Norway. The shockwave registered on seismographs around the world, even after it had already travelled around the earth three times. If superscience is about producing Awesome, but Impractical generators of superlatives, then the Czar Bomba is surely its peak.
Also, there are on and off rumors in the media since 2001 that research was underway to create a small nuclear device able to destroy a large building, ship or installation while generating very little fallout and leaving surrounding buildings only slightly scorched on the outside. Like a version of the Davy Crockett W54 warhead, but cleaner. The political implications of having a nuke small and clean enough to not be a doomsday device are rather disturbing.
There was a Soviet attempt to create man-chimpanzee hybrids for use as workers. Didn't work, but explains the weird science aspect they get in fiction. The precise details of that infamous experiment, which is usually considered (understandably) little more than an Urban Legend, is that the Soviet scientist who did it worked more or less alone, only got a grant from Stalin due to red tape (and probably would have been shot if Stalin had discovered what he was actually doing), the experiment consisted of trying to use human sperm to artificially inseminate orangutans (because they didn't know about the close genetic relationship between humans and chimps), and his actual goal was to "prove" evolution and use that to stymie the political power of the Russian Orthodox Church, not to make Super Soldiers.
There are rumors about Soviet low-frequency Sonic Weapon devices at their borders, threatening to instill depression and anxiety in the whole population. Some even argued that this was already taking place...
This is probably based on the phenomenon of the "Russian Woodpecker", an odd low-frequency shortwave signal caused by the over-the-horizon radar system in the Ukraine that irritated European ham radio operators during the '70s and '80s.
The Soviet Union, apart from creating apemen, was actively working on flying tanks and flyingships built to skim over the surface of the ocean as fast heavy transports that would work below radar.
The US worked on flying submarines too. But the Soviets took it Up to Eleven when they actually started cutting steel for a nuclear submarine aircraft carrier/amphibious warfare ship. Sadly, it was canceled immediately afterwards.
The world's only extant modern balanced ternary computer, a design that allows for more efficient handling of many computational algorithms (including basic addition and multiplication), is a Soviet design from the late 50s (Setun). Designs and theories have appeared in the West as well as one of the world's first computing devices, a 19th century wooden calculating machine, but no ternary computers have been actually built outside of the Soviet Union due to general lack of interest and the ubiquity of binary hardware.
Possibly worthy of mention is the use of supercavitation for torpedoes. Water creates quite a lot of drag and severely limits the top speed that a projectile travelling through it may achieve. With supercavitation, a bubble of water vapour forms around the projectile, greatly reducing drag. The Soviets started experimenting with the phenomenon in the 60s, and by 1972 a supercavitating torpedo, the VA-111 Shkval, was put into service. Its top speed is in excess of 370km/h (in comparison, 50km/h is at the top end of what a nuclear submarine may reach as of this writing; the US made Mk-54 torpedo achieves about 75km/h). Eventually other countries got in on the act: since the 90s the US Navy has also been developing its own roster of supercavitating projectiles, DARPA is thinking of supercavitating troop carriers, Germany has deployed the creatively named "Superkavitierender Unterwasserlaufkörper" in 2004, and even Iran claims to have tested a supercavitating torpedo in 2006. Superscience marches on.
However, most supercavitating weapons fall into Awesome, but Impractical. The Shkval, for example, has virtually no way to guide itself (by virtue of being powered by a freaking jet engine underwater) and is designed to be fired back down the bearing of an incoming torpedo, and initially had a nuclear warhead on it because that was the only way to guarantee hitting anything. Less insane weapons designers noticed that such speed was pretty unnecessary (as compared to the normal Soviet R&D doctrine of "bigger" followed by "more") and while it's unclear if Shkvals are still deployed on Russian ships, other weaponry has certainly surpassed it.
Currently the Shkval apparently has a guided version. It's hard to tell as the usual veil of secrets surrounding the Russian military seems to be darkest around this particular projectile.
In the field of space, there's Polyus (the world's only space battle station, which fortunately for the West failed on launch) and a ground-mounted laser called Terra-3.
The Russians were quite keen on experimenting with space stations in general. Once they lost the Moon race, they aimed for and pretty much achieved many records for longest stays in orbit. Russian space habitation technology is possibly still the best in the world.
A real-life example of "abandoned Soviet experiment" is the NK-33 closed circuit rocket engine. Originally intended for use in the attempt to get a man on the Moon, the prototypes were supposed to be destroyed once that project was cancelled. Sore losers the Soviets. Fortunately, several NK-33 engines were hidden in a warehouse by their designer, Nikolai Dmitriyevich Kuznetsov. That happened in the 70s. Fast forward to the 90s, when somewhat improved relations between East and West, and presumably some money, helped the old relics emerge from storage, where they proved to be still cutting edge tech despite being two decades old. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the NK-33 achieves the highest thrust-to-mass ratio among all currently existing rocket engines, and it, or variations thereof, are now used by satellite launch companies like Orbital Sciences Corporation and several future space projects plan to employ them as well.
The US played this trope straight twice in the 50s and 60s. The military-industrial complex and "tough on Communism" politicians warned the American people about a "bomber gap" and then a "missile gap," saying that the US was falling behind the USSR in weapons production when in fact the reverse was true.
These gaps were based on truly heinous intelligence gathering. In one example the USSR displayed a new strategic bomber by flying one formation of them over a military parade repeatedly; the US assumed each appearance was a different formation. A little later, US aerial reconnaissance photographed dozens of bombers at one Soviet airbase. Via reckless multiplication they assumed every airbase had a similar stock when in fact the group of bombers photographed was the entire production run at the time.
US intelligence has a running history of making inflated evaluations of enemy capabilities. For example, the MiG-25 'Foxbat' interceptor (created in response to the US B-70 program, which was canceled after one of the two prototypes was lost) was monitored flying over Egypt at a speed of Mach 3.2, which was assumed to be the normal performance of the aircraft, and was believed to be an agile dogfighter (with the US F-15 being designed to counter it). Only after Lt. Belenko defected with a MiG-25 in 1976 was the plane discovered to be a relatively unmaneuverable high-altitude interceptor, and that its demonstrated speed capacity would require replacing the engines after the flight.
Real life averted: late-70s tinfoil hatter "Dr." Peter Beter (believe it or not, his real name) entertained many fantasies about Soviet technology, including the existence of "cosmospheres", which were apparently large, blimp-like spacecraft. His, er, theories were carried into the 1990s by noted Usenet kook Robert McElwaine.
Subversion. A lot of Russia's best technology has never been super-science, but Boring, but Practical. The T-34 tank is considered by some to have been the best of World War II despite atrocious build quality and maniacal saving on every non-essential part. Also Soviet small arms have long been quite good - they were usually disregarded by non-shooters due to their ugliness, but when it came to reliability, quality of steels and alloys used, rate of fire for automatic weapons and accuracy of rifles, it was a different kettle of fish.
On the less bellicose side, Russia makes some pretty good bush planes and similar heavy weather equipment, verystrong offroad heavy trucks (inasmuch as one can say there are heavy trucks, very heavy trucks and Russian trucks) and pretty good and reliable if less fanciful watches (they capitalize on simplicity, sturdiness and reliability for medium-priced watches, using dated 21,600 vibration-per-hour calibers, as opposed to modern Swiss 28,800 and 36,000 vph).
The USSR created the first nationwide satellite network in the geographically-larges country on Earth, allowing viewers in the Far East to veg out in front of their televisions at the same time as those in the western regions.
The Soviets also built a working Drill Tank, the Subterrene Trebeleva. Well, it worked until the on board nuclear reactor failed and killed the entire test-crew, at which point the project was deemed "not worth it" and abandoned.
The Soviet space program managed to build the longest lasting probes ever to touch the surface of Venus. While most probes were crushed to death before even coming within 25km of the surface, Venera 13 survived on the ground transmitting data for a record setting 127 minutes before being crushed, melted, and dissolved by the harsh Venusian atmosphere. Sure, Venus is a Death World, but at least it's not Siberia.
The Russian manned space program is still very much active, while its US counterpart is currently defunct. So, at least in some sectors, (ex-)Soviets did get to bury Americans (in the original sense meant by Khrushchev—i.e. "we will outlast you so that we'll be at your funeral.")
The R-7 rocket and the Soyuz and Progress capsules have been touted as an excellent example of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" by aerospace experts worldwide. These designs have been in service since the sixties and have racked up a truly staggering launch record. And, for all that people go on about "unsafe" Russian technology, the ratio of launches to accidents have shown these systems to be one of the safest long-term systems in the industry to date. The designs have also been continually improved throughout their service life.
The Soviets attempted to develop a "Badger Bomber", a plane that could also burrow. While it could take off from underground, it couldn't burrow from the air without destroying itself.
The Soviets also built several weird locomotives, such as a 4-14-4 (longest rigid locomotive in Europe), a steam-diesel locomotive, and the high-pressure steam locomotive V5. After the death of Stalin, the locomotive industry settled for Boring, but Practical.
There are many abandoned Soviet installations whose purpose is known to neither Russia nor United States. Many are research facilities that were given last minute orders to sabotage their archives, and are so alien and different from other known buildings that we can only guess what they were meant for.
While not exactly super-science now. The Soviet Teletank was technically the first remote controlled attack drone built. And considering this was during WW2 and they had to keep up with Germany and their advances. They did manage to build a better RC tank than the German's tank buster, which was a bomb strapped to two treads and commanded through wired controls to blow up a tank.
There have also been several real-life inversions of the trope wherein Soviet technology is vastly underestimated only to turn out surprisingly better in ways Western intelligence hadn't even considered. For example, for much of the latter half of the Cold War the R-73 was assumed to have been inferior to the AIM-9 Sidewinder—until NATO got their hands on their first copies of the non-export-version R-73. They were stunned at how good it was. It was far more agile than the AIM-9, with a much wider seeker arc, and the helmet sight (which the Soviets also fielded before NATO) offered a huge advantage in a dogfight. The one advantage NATO had was in seeker computer tech, since the R-73's was rather crude—but this was little comfort, since when they tested their own far more advanced Sidewinders on Soviet decoys they found that for all its high tech seeker, the AIM-9 was still really easy to decoy with the dirty-burning Russian flares. It should have been better, but in a serious technological oversight the Sidewinder's developers had optimized the missile seeker to discriminate NATO flares, not cruder Russian ones. It led to a huge crisis of confidence—ironically, a reaction more in line with the trope played straight—and a significant push by NATO air forces to catch up in this area, the fruits of which we are seeing today.
There exists one field where Russia is agreed, by experts on both sides of the Iron Curtain, to have maintained industrial supremacy since the fall of the Tsar, and that is the manufacture of precision optical instruments. Other nations may best Russia in their design, but when it comes to making high-end optics that have already been designed, Russia has 95% market-share. There are only 3 manufacturers in the entire world that produce the large mirrors and lenses used in the telescopes of astronomical observatories; one in Russia (Lytkarino Optical Glass Factory, abbreviated LZOS in Russian), one in Germany (Schott AG), and one in France (known until 2005 as SAGEM for Société d’Applications Générales de l’Électricité et de la Mécanique. In '05 they merged with French aerospace company SNECMA to form Safran, and the new name for the division that makes optical components is RÉOSC for Recherche et Étude en Optique et Sciences Connexes). But the German firm only manufactures the rough blanks, and doesn't have the required personnel or materiel for precision-grinding needed to machine the glass to the extremely tight tolerances needed for telescope mirrors. The French firm can't make the rough blanks, they can only do the precision grinding with already-casted roughs. The Russian factory is the only facility in the world that does both processes in a single factory. Moreover, St. Petersburg (formerly known as Leningrad and prior to that as Petrograd) has an optical-instruments manufacturer known as LOMO, which is, to this day, widely regarded as one of the finest builders of telescopes, cameras, and medical optical instruments in the world. There is a very good reason why so many gun owners insist on fitting their firearms with Russian optics.