BACKGROUND: although a solid body of international general practice studies focuses on epidemiological issues of partner abuse against women, there is no research in Russian primary care targeting its cultural diversity to provide sufficient evidence for health care intervention towards this important public health issue. OBJECTIVES: to measure lifetime and 1-year prevalence of partner abuse among women attending Russian general practice, to test for associations between lifetime partner abuse and socio-demographic factors and to assess the acceptability to women of GPs asking about partner abuse. METHODS: cross-sectional self-administered questionnaire survey in 24 general practices in St Petersburg. Russian Composite Abuse Scale was administered to consecutive woman patients. Prevalence was reported as proportions and logistic regression was used to test associations. RESULTS: one thousand two hundred and thirty-two respondents (age range 16-70 years); 70% response. Lifetime prevalence of partner abuse was 37.1% [95% confidence interval (CI) = 34.4-40.0%] and 1-year prevalence was 7.2% (95% CI = 4.6-11.2%). The multivariate analysis showed that cohabiting women were 1.9 (95% CI = 1.3-2.8) times more likely and divorced women were 2.3 (95% CI = 1.1-4.8) times more likely to be abused than married respondents. Only 34.7% (95% CI = 31.5-38.0%) of women would agree to GPs asking about partner abuse. CONCLUSIONS: the high prevalence of partner abuse is consistent with international findings in general practice-based studies. The predominantly negative attitude of women towards being asked about abuse is a challenge to future domestic violence interventions in Russian practices.