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

  • JASON LYALL (a1)

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.

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