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The state of environmental protection in the Russian Federation: a review of the post-Soviet era

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
February 10, 2017

In the 25 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, sweeping political, economic, and social changes have profoundly influenced environmental protection in Russia, the world’s largest country and one of global importance with respect to natural resources, biodiversity conservation, wilderness preservation, and climate change mitigation. This paper reviews the state of the environment by assessing post-Soviet era changes to legislation, government regulatory institutions, and civil society. A gulf exists between Russia’s formal environmental laws and state agency capacity and interest in enforcing them. This stems, in part, from repeated bureaucratic reorganizations that have progressively eroded environmental institutions. The Russian environmental movement, which blossomed during Gorbachev’s reforms in the late 1980s, struggled in the 1990s to mobilize the broader public due to economic hardship and political instability. Since then, the Putin administration has labeled many environmental groups “anti-Russian” and used aggressive tactics such as raiding NGO offices, intimidating journalists, and instituting severe legislative measures to quash advocacy and dissent. Post-Soviet environmental successes have been relatively few, with expansion of the protected area system and forest certification notable exceptions. These successes can partially be attributed to efforts by large environmental organizations, but expansion of certification and corporate social responsibility is also tied to Russian business interests dependent on natural resource export to global markets increasingly sensitive to environmental concerns. The paper concludes by illustrating how corruption, poor enforcement, and the muzzling of civil society render the state incapable of resolving arguably its most significant environmental challenge: illegal and unregulated resource use.

Laura A. Henry
Research Areas
Impacts & Burdens
Publication Type
Journal Article
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Full Citation

Joshua P. Newell & Laura A. Henry (2017) The state of environmental protection in the Russian Federation: a review of the post-Soviet era, Eurasian Geography and Economics, 57:6, 779-801. CSS17-57