Despite the high profile of climate change in scientific and policy discourse, the Russian government has thus far failed to commit to an emission reduction target based on the latest science. Given Russia is a key supplier of fossil fuels, a major greenhouse gas emitter, and climate impacts on its vast territory likely to have far-reaching consequences, this contextual research shows that the country’s current policies fall woefully short of what is required to implement the Paris Agreement. To support Russia in developing informed, internally consistent and scientifically literate energy policies, this paper presents low-carbon emission trajectories commensurate with the 2°C goal, using stakeholder-informed backcasting. The results illustrate that even if Russia’s CO2 emissions peak in 2017, a reduction rate of at least 9% per year between 2020 and 2030 is required to meet a 2°C budget constraint. These sustained rates are in excess of anything achieved globally or, indeed, deemed possible within most studies. Such emission reductions would involve unprecedented material changes to Russia’s energy system, including both rapidly cutting energy demand and building extensive low-carbon infrastructures. Nevertheless, failure to transform Russia’s existing policies will likely have global repercussions for achieving the Paris Agreement’s goals.