Violence by Proxy: State-Sponsored Rebels and Criminals in Chechnya
States often incorporate agents without formal ties to state institutions into their coercive apparatus. Blurring the already tenuous boundary between state and nonstate violence allows states to carry out illicit and covert actions. Accordingly, the existing literature identifies plausible deniability as a leading explanation for why states use armed proxies. However, states sometimes deliberately make public their relationship with violent nonstate actors. This chapter tackles why states outsource violence overtly by addressing an empirical puzzle: Russia’s partnership with rebels and criminals during the Second Chechen War (1999–2002), but not during the first (1994–1996). It shows that the variation in the two wars stems from the disparity in public support and the military competence of the regular forces. When public opinion strongly supported the military campaign and the regular forces were militarily capable, the Russian state outsourced violence overtly. The public confidence in the war’s rightfulness and the military’s aptitude muted the stigma associated with the state’s reliance on “unsavory” characters. However, when public opinion was against the war and the regular forces were incompetent, overt reliance on proxies would have made the state appear even weaker and more desperate, thereby undermining its legitimacy in the eyes of the Russian public.
KeywordsRussian Government Russian Public Military Campaign Local Proxy Regular Force
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