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Islamists and Nationalists: Rebel Motivation and Counterinsurgency in Russia's North Caucasus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 April 2015

University of Oxford
University of Michigan
Monica Duffy Toft is Professor of Government and Public Policy, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford ( 10 Merton Street, Oxford, UKOX1 4JJ.
Yuri M. Zhukov is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Faculty Associate at the Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan (, 5700 Haven Hall, 505 South State Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1045.


This article offers the first disaggregated, quantitative comparison of Islamist and nationalist violence, using new data from Russia's North Caucasus. We find that violence by Islamist groups is less sensitive to government coercion than violence by nationalist groups. Selective counterinsurgency tactics outperform indiscriminate force in suppressing attacks by nationalists, but not Islamists. We attribute this finding to rebels’ support structure. Because Islamist insurgents rely less on local support than nationalists, they are able to maintain operations even where it is relatively costly for the local population to support them. These findings have potentially significant implications for other contemporary conflicts in which governments face both types of challenges to their authority and existing political order.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2015 

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