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Trading hard hats for combat helmets: The economics of rebellion in eastern Ukraine

Post developed by Yioryos Nardis in coordination with Yuri Zhukov.

In March and April 2014, angry mobs and armed men stormed administrative buildings and police stations in eastern Ukraine. Waving Russian flags and condemning the post-revolutionary government in Kyiv as an illegal junta, the rebels proclaimed the establishment of ‘Peoples’ Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk, and organized a referendum on independence. Despite initial fears that the uprising might spread to other provinces, the rebellion remained surprisingly contained. While 61% of municipalities in Donetsk and Luhansk fell under rebel control during the first year of the conflict, just 20% experienced any rebel violence. What explains these local differences in rebellion across eastern Ukraine? Why have some towns remained under government control while others slipped away? Why might two municipalities in the same region experience different levels of separatist activity?

Yuri Zhukov

Yuri Zhukov

The latest research by Yuri Zhukov, faculty member in the Center for Political Studies and Assistant Professor of Political Science, uses new micro-level data on violence and economic activity in eastern Ukraine to examine these questions. In the paper “Trading hard hats for combat helmets: The economics of rebellion in eastern Ukraine” (forthcoming in the Journal of Comparative Economics) Zhukov evaluates two prominent explanations on the causes and dynamics of civil conflict in eastern Ukraine: ethnicity and economics.

Identity-based explanations expect conflict to be more likely and more intense in areas where ethnic groups are geographically concentrated. According to this view, the geographic concentration of an ethnolinguistic minority – in this case, Russians or Russian speaking Ukrainians – helps local rebels overcome collective action problems, while attracting an influx of fighters, weapons and economic aid from co-ethnics in neighboring states.

According to economic explanations, as real income from less risky legal activities declines relative to income from rebellious behavior, participation in the rebellion is expected to rise. This framework maintains that violence should be most pervasive in areas potentially harmed by trade openness with the EU, austerity and trade barriers with Russia.

Zhukov finds that local economic factors are much stronger predictors of rebel violence and territorial control than Russian ethnicity or language. Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are “pro-Russian” not because they speak Russian, but because their economic livelihood depends on trade with Russia.

The study uses new micro-level data on violence, ethnicity and economic activity in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, to understand how these two explanations are related to rebel violence and territorial control. The spatial units are 3037 municipalities (i.e. cities, towns, villages) in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. For each municipality, Zhukov estimated the proportion of the local labor force employed in three industries: machine-building (which is heavily dependent on exports to Russia), metals (less dependent on Russia, and a potential beneficiary of increased trade with the European Union), and mining (vulnerable to International Monetary Fund-imposed austerity and cuts in state-subsidies). He also calculated the proportion of Russian speakers in each locality.

Rebel violence data are based on human-assisted machine coding of incident reports from multiple sources, including Ukrainian and Russian news agencies, government and rebel press releases, daily ‘conflict maps’ released by both sides, and social media news feeds. This yielded 10,567 unique violent events in the Donbas, at the municipality level, recorded between the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and the second Minsk ceasefire agreement of February 2015. To determine territorial control, particularly whether a populated place was under rebel or government control on a given day, Zhukov used three sources: official daily situation maps publicly released by Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (RNBO), daily maps assembled by the pro-rebel bloggers ‘dragon_first_1’ and ‘kot_ivanov’, and Facebook posts on rebel checkpoint location.

zhukov_allTo evaluate the relative explanatory power of ethnic and economic explanations of violence in the Donbas, the study uses Bayesian Model Averaging. It finds that a municipality’s prewar employment mix is a better predictor of rebel activity than local ethnolinguistic composition. Municipalities more exposed to trade shocks with Russia experienced a higher intensity of rebel violence throughout the conflict. Municipalities where machine-building represented a small share of local employment (2%, the lowest in the data) were 38% less likely to experience violence than municipalities where the industry was more dominant — and the local population more vulnerable to trade disruptions with Russia. Such localities also fell under rebel control earlier – and took longer for the government to liberate – than municipalities where the labor force was less dependent on exports to Russia. On any given day, a municipality with higher-than-average employment in the beleaguered machine-building industry (26%) was about twice as likely to fall under rebel control as a municipality with below-average employment in the industry (4%).

By contrast, ethnicity and language had no discernible impact on rebel violence. Municipalities with large Russian-speaking populations were more likely to fall under rebel control, but only where economic dependence on Russia was relatively low. In other words, ethnicity only had an effect where economic incentives for rebellion were weak.

The seemingly rational economic self-interest at the heart of the conflict stands in sharp contrast with the staggering costs of war. In the twelve months since armed men began storming government buildings in the Donbas, over 6000 people have lost their lives, and over a million have been displaced. Regional industrial production fell by 49.9% in 2014, with machinery exports to Russia down by 82%.Suffering heavy damage from shelling, many factories have closed. With airports destroyed, railroad links severed and roads heavily mined, a previously export-oriented economy has found itself isolated from the outside world.

References:

2001 Ukrainian Census (State Committee on Statistics of Ukraine, 2001).

Bureau van Dijk’s Orbis database (Bureau van Dijk Electronic Publishing, 2015).

Segodnya, 2015. Ekonomika donetskoy oblasti v upadke iz-za voyny – gubernator kikhtenko. [Donetsk region’s economy in stagnation because of the war – Governor Kikhtenko]. Segodnya.

Stasenko, M., 2014. Novaya ekonomika ukrainy budet stroit’sya bez rossii i donbassa [Ukraine’s new economy will be built without Russia or the Donbas]. Delo.ua.

Power and the Vote: Elections and Electricity in the Developing World

Post developed by Yioryos Nardis in coordination with Brian Min.

Across the developing world, debate persists on whether democracy benefits the poor and how governments decide who gets access to public goods like electricity, water, and education. However, answers are limited because we lack reliable data on what states actually do in many of the world’s poorest areas where data are unavailable or of unknown quality.

Brian Min bookPower and the Vote: Elections and Electricity in the Developing World, a new book by Center for Political Studies Faculty Associate and Assistant Professor of Political Science Brian Min, overcomes fundamental data challenges by leveraging new satellite imagery that provides objective and consistent evidence on access to electricity, even in villages in the most remote parts of the world. New data and tests measure and observe state actions in the developing world where traditional data collection strategies are inadequate. Using satellite images of nighttime lights and other high-resolution geo-coded data across the world and over time, the book analyzes how political institutions affect the delivery of electricity to the poor.

The first book to use satellite data to study public goods and development, it offers an evaluation of how governments treat their citizens. The book builds on Min’s past work on the measurement of rural electrification in Senegal and Mali and electricity and electoral competition in India to provide a new political theory of public goods provision. Min argues that public goods are valuable to democratic leaders not only because they reach many voters and are valued by the public, but also because of the political externalities they generate for electorally minded politicians. Min’s research shows that the provision of seemingly universal public goods is intricately shaped by electoral priorities. Combining cross-national evidence with detailed sub-national analysis and village-level data from India, the book suggests that the targeting of electricity provision peaks during election periods when voter attention is highest and where the political opportunity and capacity for change is highest.

Power and the Vote points to the influence of electoral incentives in shaping the distribution of public goods, and challenges the view that democracy is a luxury of the rich with little relevance to the world’s poor. Policymakers and international development practitioners will appreciate the focus on the energy challenge facing the world’s poor, and insights on how politics shapes the delivery of even technical services like electricity.

The fifth module of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES)

Post developed by David Howell and André Blais.

The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) project recently celebrated its 20th anniversary during a Plenary Session of collaborators in Berlin, Germany, with thanks to the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB) for their generous organizational and financial support of the event.

At the event, 31 election studies from around the world made presentations about their research designs, plans, challenges, and data availability, with most of their slide sets being available for viewing at the Plenary Session website.

It was especially appropriate to return to Berlin this year, the city having hosted the initial planning meeting for the project 20 years previously.  The original event was sponsored by the International Committee for Research into Elections and Representative Democracy (ICORE).  Originally anticipated as an outgrowth of ICORE, the CSES grew and eventually replaced it.

CSES Berlin 2014 Group Photo

A CSES module consists of a 10-15 minute questionnaire that is inserted into post-election surveys from around the world. The project includes collaborators from more than 60 countries, with 50 election studies from 41 countries having appeared in the CSES Module 3 dataset. The CSES design is such that each module has a different theme which is intended to address a new “big question” in science. The project combines all of these surveys for each module, along with macro data about each country’s electoral system and context, into a single dataset for comparative analysis.  There is no cost to download the data, and there is no embargo or preferential access.  Every citizen in the world is able to download the data from the project’s website at the very same time as any of the project’s collaborators.

The recent Berlin meeting involved the first public presentation and discussion of content proposals submitted for CSES Module 5, for which data collection will be conducted during 2016-2021.  After a public call, 20 proposals in total were received – a record number.  Interested persons can view a presentation about the proposals, on topics ranging from corruption to populism to personality traits to electoral integrity.  The theme for Module 5 will be selected, and the questionnaire developed and pretested, over the next one-and-a-half years.  Prior modules have had as their themes: the performance of democracy, accountability and representation, political choices, and distributional politics and social protection.

As of the Berlin meeting in 2014, André Blais and the CSES Module 4 Planning Committee have handed over their role to a new CSES Module 5 Planning Committee, with John Aldrich as chair. John is an outstanding scholar who, in addition to having held leadership positions in many professional associations, has a long association with both the American National Election Studies and CSES.

While at its core CSES is a data gathering and disseminating organization, it has produced many other benefits as well.  CSES considers an important part of its mission to be to create a community for electoral researchers, and to encourage election studies and local research capacity building around the world.  CSES enables scholarship not just in political science, but other related disciplines – over 700 entries now appear in the CSES Bibliography on the project website.

The majority of funds for the CSES project are provided by the many organizations that fund the participating post-election studies.  The central operations of the project are supported by the American National Science Foundation and the GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences.

We’d like to thank our many collaborators, funding organizations, and users for their support of the CSES, and we look forward to developing an engaging CSES Module 5!