Militants and Mixed Messages: The Effect of Sponsor Ambiguity on Insurgent Ideology and Networks

Nora Webb Williams, Calvin Garner, Michael Gabbay

Research output: Working paper


While material resources have been the dominant focus of research on drivers of factional dynamics within insurgent movements, recent studies have shown that ideology also plays an important role. We address the interaction of material and ideological factors by theorizing and empirically investigating how state sponsorship impacts ideological diversity and patterns of cooperation and conflict in insurgent movements. When a movement relies upon a single state sponsor, conformance to the sponsor's preferences might be thought to render ideology irrelevant. However, we argue that when the state sponsor's position on an ideological dimension is ambiguous, then militant cooperation and conflict will be structured by ideological similarity (homophily) on that dimension. Conversely, sponsor clarity inhibits homophily. We test our theory on the Russia-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine using an innovative empirical and methodological approach that combines an event and ideology database built from news articles and social media posts with signed network analysis. By analyzing an ideological dimension for which Russia's position was ambiguous and one for which it was clear, we find support for the hypothesized homophily-promoting and inhibiting effects of sponsor ambiguity and clarity, respectively.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages44
StatePublished - Feb 25 2021


  • Ukraine
  • network analysis
  • civil war
  • ideology
  • Russia


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