Stuttgart forward Pavel Pogrebnyak scored the only goal of the game as the Russians snapped a worrying run of poor results this summer - having already lost a friendly in Iran and drawn with 2022 FIFA World Cup™ hosts Qatar and Cameroon in Austria.
"I'm pleased with the team's performance throughout the match," said Russia coach Dick Advocaat.
Dynamo Moscow midfiedler Igor Semshov also expressed his satisfaction with the result. "Of course it wasn't our team's best ever performance today," Semshov said. "But we managed to overcome a very difficult opponent. We all gave everything to win tonight."
It was the visitors who made the livelier start, but Russia defended stoutly and restricted the Serbians to a number of fruitless long-range shots.
In the 13th minute Russian skipper Andrei Arshavin tested goalkeeper Bojan Jorgacevic with a powerful 20-metre shot but the Serbian goalkeeper, winning his third cap, deflected the ball away for a corner.
Arsenal midfielder Arshavin and Zenit St Petersburg striker Alexander Kerzhakov both suffered minor knocks and had to be replaced in the first half-hour by coach Dick Advocaat.
After the interval, the hosts moved up a gear and eight minutes in Pogrebnyak put them ahead, firing home a rebound after Jorgacevic failed to stop a powerful long-range shot by Tottenham Hotspur striker Roman Pavlyuchenko.
Serbia hit back and came close to levelling the score six minutes later when Juventus midfielder Milos Krasic was denied at close range by Russian goalkeeper Igor Akinfeyev.
In the 72nd minute Everton midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov fluffed a straightforward chance to add a second for Russia, but the home side hung onto their lead to seal the win.
Russia share the lead in their EURO 2012 qualifying group with the Republic of Ireland and Slovakia, who are all on 13 points after six matches, five points ahead of fourth-placed Armenia.
Next month, Russia play two crucial home qualifiers, against FYR Macedonia and the Republic of Ireland.
Serbia are third in their qualifying Group C with eight points from six matches, three points behind second-placed Slovenia, who have a game in hand. Italy sit atop their group with 16 points.