Defection Denied: A Study of Civilian Support for Insurgency in Irregular War, Cambridge University Press, 2022, (with David Siroky and Lenka Bustikova), download citation

How can researchers obtain reliable responses on sensitive issues in dangerous settings? This Element elucidates ways for researchers to use unobtrusive experimental methods to elicit answers to risky, taboo, and threatening questions in dangerous social environments. The methods discussed in this Element help social scientists to encourage respondents to express their true preferences and to reduce bias, while protecting them, local survey organizations, and researchers. The Element is grounded in an original study of civilian support for the jihadi insurgency in the Russian North Caucasus in Dagestan that assesses theories about wartime attitudes toward militant groups. We argue that sticky identities, security threats, and economic dependence curb the ability of civilians to switch loyalties.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Under the Veil of Democracy: What Do People Mean When They Say They Support Democracy?, Perspectives on Politics, 2023, (with Hannah S. Chapman, Margaret C. Hanson, and Paul DeBell), download citation

Scholars have expressed concern over waning support for democracy worldwide. But what do ordinary citizens mean by the term “democracy,” and how do their definitions of democracy influence their support for it? Using global cross-national survey data, this study demonstrates that individual variation in the understanding of democracy is substantively linked to democratic support across countries and regime contexts. Individuals who define democracy in terms of elections and the protection of civil liberties and those with greater conceptual complexity express higher support for democracy. This relationship between democratic conceptualization and support holds across diverse political contexts and alternative explanations. These results suggest that it is essential to consider divergent conceptualizations of democracy—and how they may vary systematically—when analyzing popular opinions of democracy.

Explaining Diversionary Domestic Conflict: Inequality and Communitarianism in Russia, Ethnopolitics, Ethnopolitics, 2022, download citation

Why do elites and ordinary individuals support targeting peripheral minorities? This study argues that high income inequality in the society and economic communitarianism among its population form the social basis for diversionary domestic conflict. When income inequality in society is high, the elites have an incentive to divert popular discontent toward peripheral minorities. High income inequality also raises the expectations for state assistance among the economically communitarian population strata, who tend to regard the minorities as a target for resource extraction. I test these conjectures using the case of Russia and Chechnya and find support for the proposed theory.

Secessionist conflict as diversion from inequality: The missing link between grievance and repression, Conflict Management and Peace Science, 2022, download citation

Why do some secessionist claims turn violent and others stay peaceful? This study elucidates the role of inequality and diversionary tactics of states in secessionist violence. Horizontal inequality increases the grievances of minorities and fuels rebellion. States with high vertical inequality prefer to suppress peripheries instead of increasing redistribution and alleviating their material grievances. States shun redistributing toward peripheral regions because sharing with one group prompts demands for redistribution among other groups, including the dominant group. Fearing resource reallocation at the national scale and potential loss of their elevated social status, the elites opt for violent solutions for secessionist crises. Using a new dataset on self-determination movements I test these conjectures and find strong support for them.

Social alienation and cultural distance in the context of secession in the South Caucasus, Nations and Nationalism, 2021, download citation

What explains the variation in individual support for the territorial integrity of the state that faces violent secession? While previous research has emphasised the role of state elites, institutions, and secessionist groups, this article elucidates the popular underpinnings of the state’s response to secessionist claims. The proposed theory utilises in-group and between-group social distance to explain individual attitudes. Greater alienation from society leads people in the core state to reduce their support for the territorial integrity of the state. The perception of the cultural distinction of the secessionist group is associated with higher or lower support for the territorial integrity of the state, depending on the feasibility of reconquest of the secessionist territory. When reconquest is probable, support for the territorial integrity of the state will be positively associated with cultural distance. When it is improbable, support for the territorial integrity of the state will be negatively associated with cultural distance. The analysis of survey data from the South Caucasian countries that have struggled with secessionist movements for decades provides strong supportive evidence for these conjectures.

The socioeconomic matrix of support for sharia: a cross-national study of Muslims’ attitudes, Religion, State and Society, 2021 (with Carolyn M. Warner), download citation

What explains the variation in support for the implementation of formal religious laws in societies? To address the question, we analyse the socioeconomic bases of support for sharia, Islamic law. Our findings suggest that there is a negative correlation between the state’s ability to provide social order and welfare, and support for sharia across social strata. A state with low capacity is associated with high support for sharia among the lowest and the highest social strata of the society. Conversely, a state with high capacity for public goods provision is associated with low support for sharia among the lowest and the highest social strata of the society. Using new cross-national survey data of Muslims in rich and poor societies, we find that the evidence supports our theory, indicating that in analyses about sources of demand for religious law, social order and social welfare factors need to be considered.

Geographies of hybrid war: rebellion and foreign intervention in Ukraine, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 2020, download citation

What explains the variation in violence in the internationalized civil conflict? This study identifies such conflict as an adaptation of insurgency warfare by the state. The analysis of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine indicates that violence levels peak in the areas where the preexisting political loyalties for the challenger state were strongest, where the central government of the incumbent state has inadequate access, and where the impact of war on civilians is relatively low. The study also points to the importance of scaling factors for determining the intensity of violence.

Ethnicity or Religion? A Theory of Identity Choice with Evidence from the Russian North Caucasus, Nationalities Papers, 2020, download citation

Previous research has either equated religion- and language-based group identities or asserted that their social effects are the same. This article proposes a novel differentiation between religious and ethnic self-identification that accounts for in-group income inequality and the social role of the group. The study argues that ethnicity-based identities tend to be associated with economic activities, thereby increasing the demand for income equality within such groups. Religious identities, on the contrary, are centered around noneconomic activities and have the ideological framework for reconciling material inequalities. The observable implication of this distinction is that the high-, low-, and middle-income categories of the multicultural society will display differential association with ethnic and religious identities. Ethnic groups will have lower in-group income inequality as a result of the exclusion of the poor and the departure of the rich. Religious groups, on the contrary, will have higher in-group income inequality due to the capacity of religion to accommodate both poor and rich. Relevant empirical tests from the ethnically and religiously diverse Russian North Caucasus region indicate support for the proposed theory.

The Political Economy of Support for Sharia: Evidence from the Russian North Caucasus, Politics and Religion, 2016 (with David S. Siroky, and Khasan Dzutsev), download citation

Many scholars have argued that orthodox Muslims harbor attitudes that are more economically communitarian and politically illiberal, since individuals are seen as embedded within a larger community that places a premium on social order. Yet most studies have ignored the potential of Islam as an ideological platform for political reformers. Religion in general and Islam in particular has mostly been treated as a predictor rather than a derivative of political-economic preferences. This article suggests that, in the absence of credible secular political ideologies and representative political mechanisms, reformist-minded individuals are likely to use religion as a political platform for change. When Muslims are a minority in a repressive non-Muslim society, Islamic orthodoxy can serve as a political platform for politically and economically liberal forces. We test these conjectures with original micro-level data from the Russian North Caucasus and find strong support for them.

The Empire Strikes Back: Ethnicity, Terrain, and Indiscriminate Violence in Counterinsurgencies, Social Science Quarterly, 2015 (with David S. Siroky), download citation

Objective: The literature on indiscriminate violence has emphasized how information shapes state capacity and determines whether and where the government employs collective targeting. This article investigates the conditions that influence the government’s ability to obtain intelligence in counterinsurgencies. Specifically, it suggests that the government is more likely to use indiscriminate violence in areas characterized by indigenous ethnic homogeneity and forested terrain. These features increase the cost of acquiring information about the insurgents, and reduce state capacity, thereby increasing the likelihood of indiscriminate violence. Method: We examine district-level data on the Russian government’s use of indiscriminate violence and disaggregated data on ethnicity and terrain across the North Caucasus from 2000 to 2011. Results: The results indicate that ethnically homogeneous and forested areas are significantly more likely targets of indiscriminate violence, and that the effect of ethnicity is markedly stronger when the district is densely forested. Conclusion: This finding expands on previous studies by testing the observable implications of theories linking information to indiscriminate violence, and by providing new micro-level evidence for important human and physical constraints on counterinsurgencies.

The differential demand for indirect rule: evidence from the North Caucasus, Post-Soviet Affairs, 2013 (with David S. Siroky and Michael Hechter), download citation

Indirect rule is one of the means that central authorities have long employed in hopes of defusing communal conflict and civil war in multicultural societies. Yet very little is known about the appeal of indirect rule among the ruled themselves. Why do people in some places demand more indirect rule and local autonomy, whereas others seem content to be governed directly by rulers of an alien culture? This is a crucial question with important implications for determining the form of governance that is most likely to provide social order in culturally heterogeneous societies. Although much attention has been given to consider the relative costs and benefits of direct versus indirect rule for the central authorities, the other side of the coin – namely, the variable demand for indirect rule among the members of distinctive cultural groups – has hardly been examined with systematic empirical data. This paper presents a theory of the differential demand for indirect rule and offers an initial test of its principal empirical implications using original micro-level data from the North Caucasus region of Russia. The theory’s core claim is that the middle class should express the greatest demand for indirect rule, while both the upper and lower classes should prefer more direct rule. The theory therefore predicts that there will be an inverse parabolic relationship between the demand for indirect rule and economic class. The findings are largely consistent with these theoretical expectations.

Comparative analysis of public opinion and hostage attack victims’ attitudes: evidence from Beslan, September 2004, Caucasus Survey, 2013 (with Khasan Dzutsev), download citation

How does an extreme situation, such as a violent attack, impact political opinions of the affected population? Using original data from the hostage crisis in the North Ossetian town of Beslan, this article explores the differences and similarities in attitudes towards the key social and political issues between the directly affected and the general populations of the town. The study was constructed as a quasi-natural experiment of a rare kind, since the attack generated directly affected and unaffected populations living in the same society. Our research shows that despite deep distrust toward both the national and regional government, respondents still indicated a relatively low inclination to engage in civic activity in opposition to the state authorities as a result of the attack. The results of the study throw light on the question of why the Beslan attack did not become a catalyst for change in North Ossetia: absence of political opposition disempowers the general population and prevents social change from happening even under highly stressful circumstances. The inconclusiveness of the official investigation into the Beslan attack may, however, leave these tragic events open to future politicisation.

Rational or reckless? Georgia’s zugzwang in the Caucasus, Nationalities Papers, 2012 (with David S. Siroky), download citation

Although the 2008 Russian-Georgian war was a military defeat for Georgia, it has only reinforced Georgia’s westward trajectory. One noteworthy difference from Georgia’s pre-war policy is a new regional strategy – the North Caucasus Initiative – that seeks to create a soft power alternative to Russia’s military dominance in the region. We suggest that this approach is rational rather than reckless, as some critics have claimed. It represents a carefully calculated strategy that is already benefiting Georgia and from which all concerned parties, including Russia, stand to gain. If the South and North Caucasus were more open and less divided – a direction in which this new initiative appears to point – the Caucasus could become more prosperous and more stable. That would serve Russia’s long-term interest by significantly reducing the cost of subsidies to sustain and stabilize the volatile region.


Russia’s Syria War: A Strategic Trap? Middle East Policy, 2018 (with Emil A. Souleimanov)

Published working papers

Building Models for Biopathway Dynamics Using Intrinsic Dimensionality Analysis, arXiv:1804.11005, 2015 (with Emilia M. Wysocka, Tirthankar Bandyopadhyay, Laura Condon, and Sahil Garg)

An Agent-Based Model of Corruption: Micro Approach, Computational Model Library, 2015