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Who is driving Russian climate policy? Applying and adjusting veto players theory to a non-democracy


What is driving Russian climate policy? This article focuses on the veto player approach developed by George Tsebelis and its applicability for examining the power relations in climate change policy-making in Russia. It makes two original contributions: veto players analysis on Russian climate policy and proposals how to adjust to theory to be applied to non-democracies for comparison with democracies. After identifying the veto players and their preferences, and determining their equivalence in the decision-making process, two case studies are examined: the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and the establishment of one of the Kyoto flexible mechanisms, Joint Implementation, in Russia. Regarding the power play between actors, the latter emerges as far more accessible than the former, where scholars can generally observe only the domestic debate—which, due to the absorption of democratic decision-making institutions by the president, is detached from the actual decision-making process. Three proposals are made for adjusting the veto players approach to facilitate qualitative analysis of Russian decision-making: (1) select cases which involve also lower-level actors in charge of policy implementation; (2) due to implementation problems, changes in the status quo must be sought deeper than in statute-level changes; and (3) note that motivations of actors beyond the actual policy substance can facilitate explanations of puzzling outcomes in the process .

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  1. 1.

    Data from UN Millennium Goal Indicators website. Accessed 26 May 2014.

  2. 2.

    This analysis is used for a country comparison under the CICEP Project involving CICERO of the University of Oslo and the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, funded by the Research Council of Norway.

  3. 3.

    Vladimir Putin was President of Russia from May 2000 until May 2008, and returned to this position in May 2012. In between, he served as Prime Minister. During this time, it was commonly assumed that de facto power remained with Putin, with President Dmitry Medvedev seen as basically subordinate to Putin. In this analysis, we do not consider the rotation of formal positions as a change of leadership: our assumption is that Putin has been the VP whose word counted the most in terms of supporting or rejecting JI.

  4. 4.

    The contrast with the Duma in the 1990s is striking. In 1996–99, 42 % of the bills approved by the Duma were vetoed by the President and then overridden by the Duma, as against only 0.6 % in 2008 (Dresen and Pomeranz 2011).

  5. 5.

    In the 2007 elections, the party won 64.5 % majority of the vote and 70 % of the seats, ensuring a constitutional majority. The 49.3 % share gained in the 2011 elections was still sufficient for a legislative majority in the Duma, as it yielded 52.9 % of the seats.

  6. 6.

    Only the speeches by Bedritsky and Grachev were positive; most of the questioning and discussion was negative in tone (State Duma 2004).

  7. 7.

    Expert views unambiguous, difficult to draw final conclusion on the effectiveness of KP. The Ministry of Energy and Industry stated that it was impossible to draw firm conclusions as to the effects of KP ratification for Russia, and the MID, Roshydromet and RAN supported this view (see for instance Kommersant 23 September 2004; 24 September 2004).

  8. 8.

    For details, see Korppoo et al. (2015).

  9. 9.

    Lacking an official definition or methodology, project developers had to develop their own ways of demonstrating project ‘efficiency’.

  10. 10.

    Under the second and third sets of rules, companies that received financing through JI were required to provide evidence that they had re-invested the revenues into environmentally friendly projects.

  11. 11.

    However, Putin’s position as prime minister between his second and third presidential terms distorted this constitutional division of power. Thus, this constitutional analysis of the VPs would not apply fully to the period beyond 2008. However, the same assumption of the inner circle of the president (Medvedev) being influential basically applies to this period.

  12. 12.

    Basically this refers to no objection from any contracting party to the decision. However, practice varies to some extent, presumably depending on the strength and interests of the leading agency, and the agencies cannot be considered as VPs based on this because the government determines how the consensus rule is applied any particular time. For instance, one interviewee explained that in the case of another climate-related decision process (Climate Doctrine), the leading agency Roshydromet had attempted to ignore MED opposition by presenting a decision to the government as a consensus, but the government consulted the Ministry to check, and returned the case to Roshydromet for further negotiations. There have also been cases of ‘forced’ consensus in terms of the top leadership establishing a strict timeframe for finalising an inter-agency negotiation—allegedly by reaching consensus. Under such circumstances, the opposing agencies can demand a larger role in the administrative process of the issue to be agreed against joining consensus; this can add to the seemingly excessive bureaucracy. An example of this is the Ministry of Natural Resources insisting on introducing investment declarations to JI projects in order to manage such a process.

  13. 13.

    Khrystanovskaya (2008, 586) provides a good description: ‘Formally speaking, there was a separation of powers, but it was not a check on the power of the Kremlin, just a division of responsibilities. Above the executive, legislative and judicial powers, there was another—a supreme power, the Kremlin. In this system a parliament is needed to legitimate the decisions of the supreme power. A government is needed to direct the economy on a day-to-day basis under the management of the Kremlin. There are courts, which also serve the interests of the state, and so forth’.


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This work was funded by the post-doctoral research Project 252853 of the Academy of Finland and the NORKLIMA Project 207810 of the Research Council of Norway. Special thanks go to Steinar Andresen and Arild Underdal, who have provided comments and followed up my work on this topic in depth under the CICEP project funded by the Research Council of Norway, and to Yulia Yamineva, who provided comments in Aleksanteri annual Russia conference panel in Helsinki in November 2013.

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Correspondence to Anna Korppoo.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

See Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1 Policy process of KP ratification in Russia
Table 2 Policy process of JI in Russia

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Korppoo, A. Who is driving Russian climate policy? Applying and adjusting veto players theory to a non-democracy. Int Environ Agreements 16, 639–653 (2016).

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  • Russia
  • Veto players
  • Climate policy
  • Tsebelis