The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine appears to be well institutionalized at the international level. However, a growing body of scholarship points to the fact that institutionalization is not all that useful an endpoint by which to study the emergence of new international norms; rather, how they are implemented and interpreted by individual actors, including states, can be critical to their application and longevity. Russian behavior towards the R2P appears to put it at odds with commonly held understandings of the doctrine to the point that Russia could well be described as a norm anti-preneur on R2P, seeking to block any changes to the doctrine, or as a norm violator seeking to undermine the R2P. Here we argue that Russia’s behavior towards the R2P is inconsistent and complex. On one hand, Russia is not a pure anti-preneur in that it did little to undermine the R2P during its initial, formative period. On the other hand, Russia’s behavior towards Ukraine and Syria not only appears to be a form of norm violation but also appears to undermine Russia’s own position towards the R2P. We argue that this bifurcated position reflects issues in how Russian national identity is understood, in which both domestic and international factors play a role. These include Russia’s understandings of itself as a great power, its commitment to a strict interpretation of state sovereignty and, at the same time, to a contradictory view that Russia has a privileged role in protecting Russians outside its borders. Viewing Russia’s understanding of R2P through the prism of identity thereby helps to illuminate the aspects of the R2P which have been internalized and those which remain contested.