Russia has become increasingly assertive in its foreign relations with surrounding states—especially toward those states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Although much attention has been paid to the Russian reassertion in the near abroad, very little work has been done on how the citizens of former Soviet states see their state’s place in the world, particularly relative to Russia. Although Russia may view the former Soviet states as its potential “clients,” there is considerable variation in how the citizens of these states view their role in the world and, by definition, their relationship to Russia. Role theory provides a useful framework for evaluating the reaction of these states to Russia’s reassertion of power. These countries represent opportune cases to examine the evolution of national role conceptions in new states, and how these conceptions are affected by these countries’ relationships with Russia, China, and the West. This article provides an explanation as to why citizens of some states differ from others in their role conceptions. We offer a novel theoretical explanation that accounts for variation in roles, based on each country’s historic relationship with Russia, its emerging relationship with the West and China, and domestic ethnopolitical conditions.

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