GLONASS, the Russian system, was originally developed by the former Soviet Union starting around 1976, with the first satellites launched in 1982. As with the US GPS system, it was originally planned to primarily be used for military purposes. GLONASS was developed from a preceding global positioning system, Tsiklon.
GLONASS was planned to have global coverage by 1991... though, as those aware of world history may note, certain political events prevented this from occurring. GLONASS did not achieve top priority even under the new Russian government, the last of the first generation satellites going up in 1995 and since then falling into disrepair along with the general depression of the Russian economy.
In 2001, the Russian government made GLONASS a priority again, launching a series of second generation satellites that very year, and developing a third generation of satellites that were launched in 2009. In 2007, a decree was signed allowing the use of GLONASS for civilian purposes, opening up possibilities immensely.
GLONASS currently consists of 22 satellites, of which only 18 are operational with 24 being required for complete global coverage. GLONASS continues to be a priority, and hopefully more satellites will be launched in 2010 to complete global coverage.
It is planned to be complementary (or ideally, a full alternative) to GPS, COMPASS, and Galileo systems. Russia is also currently partnered with the Indian government to achieve global coverage. The Russian government is currently discussing the possibility of making the GLONASS signals more similar to those of Galileo and GPS so that commercial devices could be more cross-compatible. The Russian government is also currently discussing sharing GLONASS's military targeting capabilities with Cuba and Venezuela. A number of well-known commercial companies make use of GLONASS, including Magellan Navigation, Leica Geosystems and Trimble Inc.
Development of GLONASS also will have powerful implications for Russians civilian. There are several state projects associated with implementing the technology in Russian daily life, including ERA, Emergency Reaction to Accidents (Russian ЭРА or Система экстренного реагирования при авариях). This will consist of automatic equipping of all automobiles and phones with GLONASS receivers to better enable emergency operators to locate accidents, to be launched in 2013. Social GLONASS, another project, will be applied to those who the government deems should be supervised, including the elderly, children, and those with poor vision.
For those speakers of Russian, it is interesting to note that the Latinized form of the Russian acronym is the same as when it is translated into English: ГЛОНАСС, abbreviation of ГЛОбальная НАвигационная Спутниковая Система, Latinized GLObal'naya NAvigatsionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema, translated GLObal NAvigation Ssatellite System. Funny world, eh?