Skip to main content

Can Nonviolent Civil Resistance Stop Putin?

March 11, 2022
Isak Svensson and Sebastian van Baalen


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Isak Svensson, Professor at Uppsala University, and Sebastian van Baalen, Researcher at Uppsala University, analyze domestic and international civil resistance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Much focus in the current debate on reversing Putin’s invasion of Ukraine focuses on the military approach, such as Ukrainian military resistance, no-fly zones, closer NATO integration, and external arms support. Non-military forms of civil resistance against Russian military aggression receive much less attention. Yet, civil resistance against the Russian invasion can complement and enhance existing strategies in three ways.

First, a large and sustained nonviolent campaign against the war in Russia could put additional pressure on Putin to reverse the invasion. Nonviolent campaigns work when a large share of the population—at least 3.5 percent according to one study—refuse to collaborate with the regime and thereby undermine its economic, military, and economic power. Putin is fighting a two-front war, one against Ukraine, and one against his own population. Opinion polls show that only 8 percent of Russians supported war with Ukraine before the invasion, and since the invasion, many have participated in anti-war protests all over the country. These protests are yet to reach a critical mass, and almost 14,000 Russians have already been arrested for challenging the war. However, evidence from past nonviolent campaigns suggests that anti-regime protests can grow rapidly, especially if ordinary citizens believe that the government is responding with too much force. Research also shows that large nonviolent campaigns can sow division within the security forces, which can lead to loyalty shifts within military ranks and prompt military coups. Thus, as the massive economic sanctions wreak havoc on Russia’s economy and start affecting ordinary citizens, Putin has good reason to be worried.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.