The fact that the expansion of the Russian Empire occurred overland and not across the oceans as Western empires has been construed to have entailed portentous consequences for Russia’s modern development. Namely, this factor has been commonly cited to explain why Russia was unable to achieve Western-style democracy and why the Soviet elites continued to hang onto their ‘colonies’, i.e. the borderland Union republics, when other imperial powers had released theirs. I intend to reassess such assumptions by drawing comparisons between the formation of Russia, on the one hand, and the United States, the United Kingdom and France, traditionally regarded as consummate nation-states, on the other. The Turkish nation-state will be yet another point of comparison, representing the path not taken by Russia at the time of the post-First World War ‘springtime of nations’. My contention will be that the case for Russia’s deviant exceptionalism among European nation-and empire-builders rests on a series of arbitrarily drawn contrasts that do not hold up under scrutiny.