From 2001 to 2003, leaf rust was collected in different regions of Germany and the Russian Federation to generate single spore isolates and to study the structure of the pathogen populations by analyses of virulence. The virulence of isolates was tested with 38 near-isogenic lines each carrying a different resistance gene. The analyses of variance revealed significant effects for the frequency of virulent isolates, the regions and most interactions with years and regions, but no significance was found for the effects of years. In Germany, an increase of virulence frequencies was detected for Lr1 and Lr2a while a decrease was found for Lr3a, Lr3bg and Lr3ka. Such clear trends did not occur in Russia which may be due to the great agroclimatic differences between regions. The variance of the frequency of virulent isolates was used to estimate adequate sample sizes for the analysis of regional populations of leaf rust. This procedure resulted in more reliable information about the dynamic processes within the pathogen populations. In 2002 and 2003, all pathotypes in Germany had a combined virulence to Lr1, Lr2a, Lr2b, Lr15, Lr17 and Lr20 supplemented by a few other genes. The complexity of virulence was lower in the most frequent pathotypes. In Russia virulence to the alleles at locus Lr3 was very common. Using detached leaf segments in Germany and Russia it turned out that the most virulent pathotypes carry 34 and 32 virulence genes, respectively. Virulence to Lr9, Lr19, Lr24 and Lr38 was rare or even absent. The use of major genes, not overcome by corresponding virulent pathotypes, may contribute to more durable types of resistance in case they are combined with genes having different effects, e.g. adult plant resistance.