Back to search

UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser

Political and Societal Violence in Russia

Alternative title: Politisk og sosial vold i Russland

Awarded: NOK 7.0 mill.

POSOR (Political and Societal Violence in Russia) Post-Soviet Russia suffers from an enduring problem with violence. This manifests itself in various ways, from high homicide rates and widespread domestic violence to war crimes in military conflicts. When looking at various indices of violence, Russia scores significantly higher than most other countries with advanced economies. Why are the levels of violence in Russia so high, and how do they impact the country's political and economic development and its international relations? POSOR investigates these questions by studying the phenomenon on three levels: (1) the state's use of violence against internal and external actors, (2) the violence of non-state groups and organizations (focusing on far-right actors), and (3) domestic or gender-based violence. The project is interdisciplinary and employs a combination of approaches to answer these questions, including case studies, document and content analysis, and quantitative methods. Why new knowledge about violence in Russia is needed? There is a voluminous research literature addressing state-society relations in post-Soviet Russia, but violence has been a marginal topic. In fact, there are no systematic studies focusing on both the causes of high levels of violence and the implications for society at large. The POSOR project posits that violence can play a crucial role both in shaping political and economic developments and being shaped by them. Without analyzing the role of violence in Russia, we would be less equipped to understand the country's domestic, foreign, and economic development. Moreover, there is, unfortunately, reason to believe that the problem of violence may increase in the coming years. Regardless of the outcome of the war in Ukraine, that conflict has generated a further normalization of violence which will likely plague Russian society for a long time.

Considerable levels of violence have been observed in Russia since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The state has administered large-scale violence through multiple wars, violence has been a key part of the repertoire of non-state actors such as criminal organizations, vigilante groups, and political extremists, and levels of general interpersonal violence have been high. Indeed, Russia stands out from other advanced economies in several respects. In the Violent Societies Index (VSI) Russia has been ranked among the top 10 most violent societies in both the 1990s and the 2000s. In the domain of extreme-right violence for example, Russia’s average rate of fatal attacks per year (adjusted for population size) exceeds rates found in the U.S. by 500% and in Western Europe by 750% . For interpersonal violence in general, independent estimates indicate that Russia’s homicide rate exceeds that of all other European countries. Given this centrality of violence within Russia as both a tool of public policy, and as an outcome of societal tensions, it is possible that Russia will continue to follow an increasingly violent trajectory, posing an even greater threat to its neighbors and to its population. This project will therefore come at a critical time and will inform wider societal understanding of why Russia behaves as it does today, and what possibilities may lie ahead in the near future. Reports and statistics on the level of violence in Russia are relatively well known, but the causes and larger ramifications of political and societal violence in contemporary Russia remain curiously understudied. In this project, we address this gap by asking (1) how to explain the exceptionally high levels of violence in post-Soviet Russia, (2) how the problem of violence affects Russia's political and economic development, and its relationships with its neighbors, and (3) how Russia’s violence problem affects the relationship with its neighbors.

Funding scheme:

UTENRIKS-Internasjonale forhold - utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk og norske interesser