This article explores the role of the term “tolerance” in Russian presidential discourse, 2000-2020. The word became de-politicized (used equally in liberal and in conservative contexts), functioning as a buzzword and as a symbol. As a buzzword, it stood “for all good things” and denoted the positive dynamics in Russia’s nationalities and foreign policies; as a symbol, it served as a building block in constructing national identity. The use of “tolerance” also indicated the Kremlin’s firm belief in the normative power of words and ideas: that “tolerance” can change public attitudes and shape institutional design. However, the word’s conflicting semantics prompted the Kremlin to remove the term abruptly in 2013 against the background of the unfolding conservative turn. This study examines the zigzags of ideational governance in Putin’s Russia.