How have political and economic processes in Russia impacted protected areas? When first conceived in 1916, protected areas in Russia were considered as sancta of nature. In post-Soviet times, however, the fortunes of protected areas have undergone swift change: from a period of liberalisation and a conservation bonanza in the 1990s to increasing exploitation in the 2000s and commodification in the 2010s. Against the historical background of the Soviet period, this contribution traces reserves’ trajectory from sacred cows to cash cows. It concludes that the neoliberal impetus of introducing market principles into conservation is in danger of going off course in Russia: instead of making the market work for conservation, it makes conservation work for the market.