World Politics

Research Article

A Geographic Incremental Theory of Democratization: Territory, Aid, and Democracy in Postcommunist Regions

Tomila V. Lankinaa1 and Lullit Getachewa2*

a1 De Montfort University

a2 Pacific Economics Group in Madison


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.

Tomila V. Lankina is a research fellow with th e Local Governance Research Unit, Faculty of Business and Law, De Montfort University, Leicester, U.K. She is the author of Governing the Locals: Local Self-Government and Ethnic Mobilization in Russia (2004). Her current research focuses on comparative local governance and on the impact of transnational and supranational actors on local democracy in Central and Eastern Europe. She can be reached at

Lullit Getachew is a senior economist with the Pacific Economics Group in Madison, Wisconsin. Her areas of interest are statistical benchmarking, the measurement of productivity growth, and energy and regulatory economics. She has published on these topics in numerous journals. She can be reached at

* The authors thank Assen Assenov, Archie Brown, Ashwini Chhatre, Joan DeBardeleben, Jonathan Fox, Vladimir Gel'man, Dmitry Gorenburg, Arman Grigorian, Christian Haerpfer, Henry Hale, Pal Kolsto, Jeffrey Kopstein, Alvaro Morcillo-Laiz, David Nickles, Robert Orttung, Nikolai Petrov, Alex Pravda, Jesse Ribot, Blair Ruble, Ira Straus, Bill Tompson, Alexandra Vacroux, and Stephen Whitefield, as well as participants of the George Washington University Postcommunist Politics Social Science Workshop for comments on the paper and paper-based presentations or help with data analysis. We are also grateful to Meng Liu and Rachel Treffeisen for their excellent research assistance, as well as to the staff of EC RELEX and Europe-Aid offices in Brussels and to TACIS Local Support Offices in Karelia and St. Petersburg for facilitating field research. Tomila Lankina gratefully acknowledges the support of the scholars and staff of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Finally, we thank the anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions for improving the article. Any errors are solely our own.