Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-cvxtj Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-14T17:08:20.856Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Are Coethnics More Effective Counterinsurgents? Evidence from the Second Chechen War

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2010

Yale University
Jason Lyall is Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Political Science, Yale University, 205 Rosenkranz Hall, New Haven, CT 06520 (


Does ethnicity matter for explaining violence during civil wars? I exploit variation in the identity of soldiers who conducted so-called “sweep” operations (zachistki) in Chechnya (2000–5) as an empirical strategy for testing the link between ethnicity and violence. Evidence suggests that the intensity and timing of insurgent attacks are conditional on who “swept” a particular village. For example, attacks decreased by about 40% after pro-Russian Chechen sweeps relative to similar Russian-only operations. These changes are difficult to reconcile with notions of Chechen solidarity or different tactical choices. Instead, evidence, albeit tentative, points toward the existence of a wartime “coethnicity advantage.” Chechen soldiers, enmeshed in dense intraethnic networks, are better positioned to identify insurgents within the population and to issue credible threats against civilians for noncooperation. A second mechanism—prior experience as an insurgent—may also be at work. These findings suggest new avenues of research investigating the conditional effects of violence in civil wars.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2010

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Amnesty International. 2007. What Justice for Chechnya's Disappeared? New York: Amnesty International.Google Scholar
Anderson, David. 2005. Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire. New York: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
Azam, Jean-Paul, and Hoeffler, Anke. 2002. “Violence against Civilians in Civil War: Looting or Terror?Journal of Peace Research 39 (4): 461–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berman, Eli, and Laitin, David. 2008. “Religion, Terrorism and Public Goods: Testing the Club Model.Journal of Public Economics 92: 1942–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berrebi, Claude, and Lakdawalla, Darius. 2007. “How Does Terrorism Risk Vary across Space and Time? An Analysis Based on the Israeli Experience.Defense and Peace Economics 18: 113–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blattman, Christopher. 2009. “From Violence to Voting: War and Political Participation in Uganda.American Political Science Review 103 (2): 231–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bonke, Jens. 2003. “Poverty in Chechnya 2003” Copenhagen: Socialforskningsinstituttet. (November 25, 2009).Google Scholar
Box-Steffensmeier, Janet, and Jones, Bradford. 2004. Event History Modeling: A Guide for Social Scientists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bueno de Mesquita, Ethan. 2008. “Terrorist Factions.Quarterly Journal of Political Science 31 (4): 399418.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buhaug, Halvard, Cederman, Lars-Erik, and Rod, Jan Ketil. 2008. “Disaggregating Ethno-Nationalist Civil Wars: A Dyadic Test of Exclusion Theory.International Organization 62: 531–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Byman, Daniel. 2006. “Friends Like These: Counterinsurgency and the War on Terrorism.International Security 31: 79115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chandra, Kanchan, and Wilkinson, Steven. 2008. “Measuring the Effect of ‘Ethnicity’.Comparative Political Studies 41: 515–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Christia, Fotini. 2008. “Following the Money: Muslim versus Muslim in Bosnia's Civil War.Comparative Politics 40: 461–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Collier, Paul, and Hoeffler, Anke. 2004. “Greed and Grievance in Civil War.Oxford Economic Papers 56: 563–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Danish Refugee Council (DRC). 2002. “North Caucasus Situation Report No. 50.” Copenhagen: DRC.Google Scholar
Deutsch, Karl. 1966. Nationalism and Social Communication. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Duflo, Esther, Glennerster, Rachel, and Kremer, Michael. 2007. “Using Randomization in Development Economics Research: A Toolkit.” Center for Economic Policy Research Discussion Paper (No. 6059).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dunlop, John. 1998. Russia Confronts Chechnya: Roots of a Separatist Conflict. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Evangelista, Matthew. 2002. The Chechen Wars: Will Russia Go the Way of the Soviet Union? Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
Fearon, James. 1997. “Signaling in Foreign Policy Interests: Tying Hands versus Sinking Costs.Journal of Conflict Resolution 1: 6890.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fearon, James, and Laitin, David. 2003. “Ethnicity, Insurgency, and Civil War.American Political Science Review 97 (1): 7590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Felter, Joseph. 2005. “Taking Guns to a Knife Fight: A Case for Empirical Study of Counterinsurgency.” Ph.D. thesis. Stanford University.Google Scholar
Fortna, Virginia Page. 2008. Does Peacekeeping Work? Shaping Belligerents' Choices after Civil War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Galula, David. 2006. Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
Gammer, Moshe. 1994. Muslim Resistance to the Tsar. London: Frank Cass.Google Scholar
Gammer, Moshe. 2006. The Lone Wolf and the Bear: Three Centuries of Chechen Defiance of Russian Rule. Pittburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
Gapurov, Sh. A., Izraiilov, A. M., and Tovsultanov, R. A.. 2007. Chechnya na zavershaiushchem etape Kavkazskoi voiny: stranitsy khroniki russko-gorskoi tragedii XIX veka. Nal'chik: El'-Fa.Google Scholar
Gompert, David. 2008. War by Other Means: Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.Google Scholar
Gwynn, Charles. 1934. Imperial Policing. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
Habyarimana, James, Humphreys, Macartan, Posner, Daniel, and Weinstein, Jeremy. 2009. Coethnicity: Diversity and the Dilemmas of Collective Action. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
Hale, Henry. 2008. The Foundations of Ethnic Politics: Separatism of States and Nations in Eurasia and the World. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hardin, Russell. 1995. One for All: The Logic of Group Conflict. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Ho, Daniel, Imai, Kosuke, King, Gary, and Stuart, Elizabeth. 2006. “MatchIt: Nonparametric Preprocessing for Parametric Causal Inference.” (November 25, 2009).Google Scholar
Ho, Daniel, Imai, Kosuke, King, Gary, and Stuart, Elizabeth. 2007. “Matching as Nonparametric Preprocessing for Reducing Model Dependence in Parametric Causal Inference.Political Analysis, 15: 199236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Horne, Alastair. 1977. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954–1962. New York: New York Review Book.Google Scholar
Horowitz, Donald. 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Hughes, James. 2007. Chechnya: From Nationalism to Jihad. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2001. The “Dirty War” in Chechnya: Forced Disappearances, Torture, and Summary Executions. New York: Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2002a. Last Seen: Continued “Disappearances” in Chechnya. New York: Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2002b. Swept Under: Torture, Forced Disappearances, and Extrajudicial Killings during Sweep Operations in Chechnya. New York: Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2006. Widespread Torture in the Chechen Republic. New York: Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2009a. “What Your Children Do Will Touch upon You:” Punitive House-Burning in Chechnya. New York: Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2009b. “Who Will Tell Me What Happened to My Son?” Russia's Implementation of European Court of Human Rights Judgments on Chechnya. New York: Human Rights Watch.Google Scholar
Humphreys, Macartan, and Weinstein, Jeremy. 2006. “Handling and Manhandling Civilians in Civil War.American Political Science Review 100 (3): 429–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. 2006. Unofficial Places of Detention in the Chechen Republic. Helsinki: IHF.Google Scholar
Kalyvas, Stathis. 2006. The Logic of Violence in Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalyvas, Stathis. 2008. “Ethnic Defection in Civil Wars.Comparative Political Studies 41: 1043–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalyvas, Stathis, and Kocher, Matthew. 2007. “How ‘Free’ Is Free-Riding in Civil War? Violence, Insurgency, and the Collective Action Problem.World Politics 59 (2): 177216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kaufmann, Chaim. 1996. “Possible and Impossible Solutions to Ethnic Civil Wars.International Security 20: 136–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kellen, Konrad. 1969. Conversations with NVA and VC Soldiers: A Study of Enemy Motivation and Morale. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.Google Scholar
King, Gary, and Zeng, Langche. 2006. “The Dangers of Extreme Counterfactuals.Political Analysis 14: 131–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Koch, J. A. 1973. The Chieu Hoi Program in South Vietnam, 1963–1971. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.Google Scholar
Kramer, Mark. 2005/2006. “The Perils of Counterinsurgency: Russia's War in Chechnya.International Security 29 (3): 562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Landis, Erik. 2008. Bandits and Partisans: The Antonov Movement in the Russian Civil War. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lieven, Anatol. 1998. Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Linn, Brian. 2002. The Philippine War, 1899–1902. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.Google Scholar
Lischer, Sarah. 2005. Dangerous Sanctuaries. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Lyall, Jason. 2006. “Pocket Protests: Rhetorical Coercion and the Micropolitics of Collective Action in Semiauthoritarian Regimes.World Politics 58 (3): 378412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lyall, Jason. 2009. “Does Indiscriminate Repression Incite Insurgent Attacks? Evidence from Chechnya.Journal of Conflict Resolution 53 (3)331–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lyall, Jason, and Wilson, Isaiah. 2009. “Rage against the Machines: Explaining Outcomes in Counterinsurgency War.International Organization 63: 67106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mason, T. David, and Krane, Dale. 1989. “The Political Economy of Death Squads: Toward a Theory of the Impact of State-Sanctioned Terror.International Studies Quarterly 33 (2): 175–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Memorial. 2005. Chechnya 2004: “Novye” metody “kontrterrora:” Zakhvat zalozhnikov i repressivnye deistviya v otnoshenii rodstvennikov predpolagaemykh kombatanov. Moskva: Memorial.Google Scholar
Memorial and Demos Center. 2007. “‘Counterterrorism Operation[s]’ by the Russian Federation in the Northern Caucasus throughout 1999–2006.” Unpublished paper.Google Scholar
Morgan, Stephen, and Winship, Christopher. 2007. Counterfactuals and Causal Inference: Methods and Principles for Social Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Petersen, Roger. 2001. Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons of Eastern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Politkovskaya, Anna. 2003. A Small Corner of Hell: Despatches from Chechnya. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rubin, Barnett. 2002. The Fragmentation of Afghanistan. 2nd ed.New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Rubin, Donald. 2006. Matched Sampling for Causal Effects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Russell, John. 2008. “Ramzan Kadyrov: The Indigenous Key to Success in Putin's Chechenization Strategy?Nationalities Papers 36: 659–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Salehyan, Idean, and Gleditsch, Kristian. 2006. “Refugees and the Spread of Civil Wars.International Organization 60 (1): 335–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sambanis, Nicholas. 2000. “Partition as a Solution to Ethnic War: An Empirical Critique of the Theoretical Literature.World Politics 52: 437–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sambanis, Nicholas. 2001. “Do Ethnic and Nonethnic Civil Wars Have the Same Causes?Journal of Conflict Resolution 45: 259–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schultz, Kenneth. 1998. “Domestic Opposition and Signaling in International Crises.American Political Science Review 4: 829–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sekhon, Jasjeet S. 2006. “Alternative Balance Metrics for Bias Reduction in Matching Methods for Causal Inference.” (November 25, 2009).Google Scholar
Siegel, David, and Shapiro, Jacob. 2007. “Underfunding in Terrorist Organizations.International Studies Quarterly 2: 402–29.Google Scholar
Sinno, Abdulkader. 2008. Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
Slack, Andrew, and Doyon, Roy. 2001. “Population Dynamics and Susceptibility for Ethnic Conflict: The Case of Bosnia and Herzegovina.Journal of Peace Research 38: 139–61.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Sokirianskaia, Ekaterina. 2005. “Families and Clans in Ingushetia and Chechnya. A Fieldwork Report.Central Asian Survey 24: 453–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sokirianskaia, Ekaterina. 2007. “Ideology and Conflict: Chechen Political Nationalism Prior to, and During, Ten Years of War.” In Ethno-Nationalism, Islam, and the State in the Caucasus, ed. Gammer, Moshe. New York: Routledge, 102–38.Google Scholar
Souleimanov, Emil. 2007. An Endless War: The Russian-Chechen Conflict in Perspective. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
Stoll, David. 1993. Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
Stubbs, Richard. 1989. Hearts and Minds in Guerilla Warfare: The Malayan Emergency, 1948–1960. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Tajfel, Henri, Billig, Michael, Bundy, R.P., and Flament, Claude. 1971. “Social Categorization and Integroup Behavior.European Journal of Social Psychology 1: 149–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tishkov, Valery. 2004. Chechnya: Life in a War-Torn Society. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Toft, Monica. 2003. The Geography of Ethnic Violence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Trinquier, Roger. 2006. Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
Tse-tung, Mao. 2000. On Guerrilla Warfare. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
U.S. Army Field Manual No. 3-24. 2007. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Valentino, Benjamin, Huth, Paul, and Balch-Lindsay, Dylan. 2004. “‘Draining the Sea’: Mass Killing and Guerrilla Warfare.International Organization 58 (1): 375407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vandervort, Bruce. 1998. Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830-1914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
Weidmann, Nils. 2009. “Geography as Motivation and Opportunity: Group Concentration and Ethnic Conflict.Journal of Conflict Resolution 53: 526–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weinstein, Jeremy. 2007. Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Wilhelmsen, Julie. 2005. “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Islamisation of the Chechen Separatist Movement.Europe-Asia Studies 57 (1): 3559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wood, Elizabeth. 2003. Insurgent Collective Action and Civil War in El Salvador. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wood, Elisabeth. 2008. “The Social Processes of Civil War: The Wartime Transformation of Social Networks.Annual Review of Political Science 11: 539–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
World Health Organization (WHO). 2003. State Health Facilities Assessment: Ambulatory Facilities (Republic of Chechnya). Nazran, Ingushetsia: WHO.Google Scholar
Zelkina, Anna. 2000. In Quest for God and Freedom: The Sufi Response to the Russian Advance in the North Caucasus. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
Zürcher, Christoph. 2007. The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar