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The article examines the impact of geographical proximity to the West and of Western aid on democracy in Russia's regions and advances a geographic incrementalist theory of democratization. Even when national politicians exhibit authoritarian tendencies, diffusion processes and targeted foreign aid help advance democratization at the subnational level in postcommunist states and other settings. The authors make this case by conducting process-tracing case studies of democratic institution building in two northwestern border regions and statistical analysis of over one thousand projects that the European Union carried out in Russia's localities over fourteen years. They find that the EU shows commitment to democratic reform particularly in, but not limited to, regions located on its eastern frontier. Over time, this, as well as diffusion processes from the West, positively affects the democratic trajectory of the respective regions even if they had been more closed to begin with compared to other regions.
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