Russia opened up a two-point gap at the head of qualifying Group B as Ireland and Slovakia drew, while Armenia boosted their faint qualification hopes.
Igor Semshov netted the all-important winner as Russia passed the first test in a crucial week as they edged out Macedonia 1-0 in Moscow.
His 41st-minute strike proved the difference between the sides and Russia will now turn their attention to the visit of fellow challengers, the Republic of Ireland, on Tuesday.
The Republic's hopes suffered a blow as they could only manage a goalless home draw against Slovakia, with both sides now locked on 14 points.
Slovakia next face an Armenia side who won 3-0 against bottom team Andorra to move up to 11 points and keep their faint qualification hopes alive.
Marcos Pizelli opened the scoring on 35 minutes before Gevorg Ghazarian netted a crucial second on 75 minutes.
The game then witnessed late drama as Henrikh Mkhitaryan scored a last-gasp penalty and Ildefons Lima was sent off for a professional foul.