Implementing good practice social impact assessment (SIA) that meets international standards in countries in transition is problematic. We reflect on the challenges faced when undertaking SIA in the Russian Federation. These challenges restrict meaningful SIA processes from being undertaken and limit public participation and the effective community engagement of project-affected local people. Based on the self-reflexive professional experience of two Russian-based social practitioners, and their discursive interactions with two leading academics in environmental and social impact assessment, as well as on in-depth interviews with prominent Russian and international experts, we identified the key challenges that prevent effective SIA from being implemented in Russia: a lack of understanding of the international standards; discrepancy in the determination of the social area of influence between the national requirements and international standards; difficulties in combining national and international impact assessment processes; and a tendency by companies to restrict stakeholder engagement to the minimum. We hope that by having an awareness of these limitations, improvements to SIA practice in Russia and elsewhere will be made.