Ethnic Stacking in the Russian Armed Forces? Findings From A Leaked Dataset

Jesse Driscoll, Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego
Encina Hall West, Room 400

The ethnic composition of the Russian armed forces has been a source of popular speculation since the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The literature suggests that in militaries where promotions occur on non-merit characteristics – such as ethnicity – the result is lower morale, less information sharing, weaker cohesion, and ultimately inferior battlefield performance. Although studies of the “ethnic factor” in the imperial and Soviet armies abound, scholars lack microdata on the modern Russian military. Using a leaked dataset of information on almost 120,000 Russian service personnel, we show how Russia’s regional, social, economic, and ethnic inequalities are reflected in staffing the Russian armed forces. A secondary methodological contribution is an algorithmic procedure for transformation of last names into probabilistic estimates of Slavic ethnic origin, useful for de-identifying other leaked datasets.


Jesse Driscoll is a professor of political science and serves as chair of the Global Leadership Institute at the school. He is an area specialist in Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Russian-speaking world. Driscoll’s first book, Warlords and Coalition Politics in Post-Soviet States, (Cambridge University Press, 2015) maps the processes by which well-functioning domestic hierarchies emerged after relatively short periods of anarchic violence in Georgia and Tajikistan. His second book, Doing Global Fieldwork: A Social Scientist’s Guide to Mixed-Methods Research Far From Home (Columbia University Press, 2021) is a practitioner's guide to assist in collecting original data. His third book, joint work with Dominique Arel, is Ukraine’s Unnamed War: Before the Russian Invasion of 2022 (Cambridge University Press, 2023).