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Abstract

Our knowledge is limited when it comes to why certain regional powers choose to actively pursue their normative ambitions by leading regional initiatives, while others rely on bilateral/transactional mechanisms. This study contributes to a better understanding of the development of Eurasian regional neighborhood projects through the lens of institutional realist theories. States confer collective commitments to institutional initiatives, by which these regional covenants acquire normative power to selectively legitimize certain regional norms and delegitimize others. By mobilizing regional initiatives, states shape their neighborhoods and institutionally balance against norms that appear to undermine their fundamental values and identity. In this vein, the study argues that ideationally-threatened states are more likely to exercise strong regional institutional leadership to enhance their own ideational security and to maintain a favorable balance of normative power. The thesis employs a research design of structured, focused comparison with six case periods between 1989 and 2018. While particular attention is paid to the dynamics of Russia’s neighborhood policy, the study also applies the institutional realist thesis to neighborhood policies of Western actors with the purpose of allowing a wider generalization. Institutional realist explanations are constantly compared to alternative explanations to achieve a fuller understanding of normative power politics.

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