Economists have found a link between the behavior of Russians and its proximity to the Ukraine


The proximity to the Russian region to the conflict zone in Ukraine encourages its inhabitants to a higher level of prosocial behaviour — such that benefits other people and society as a whole — learned Professor of Economics at the Paris Institute of political Sciences (Sciences Po Sergei Guriev (appointed chief economist of the European Bank for reconstruction and development and summer takes office) and graduate student at Princeton University Nikita Melnikov in his “War, inflation, and social capital”, published in American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings.

To measure the level of social capital in real-time economists use the relative popularity of search queries containing the keywords indicating prosocial behaviour. Data for the 79 regions in the period between 20 January 2014 and 6 July 2015 taken from the database of requests of “Yandex”. As the categories of prosocial behavior are considered “charity and social assistance”, “blood donation” and “child care and adoption.” The key word is “blood donation”, “adopt a child”, “children’s house”, “charity”, “to help children” and “social protection”.

Regions differ markedly in terms of population and economic development, so the authors use the ratio of the number of queries for a particular keyword to the total number of search requests for a period of time in the same region, not absolute figures. The regression also included the weekly inflation rate, the product of the intensity of the conflict and the remoteness from the conflict zone, the volatility of the ruble exchange rate and the vulnerability of the region to changes in rate (the share of dollar-denominated debt and imports as a share of gross regional product by the end of 2013), as well as the average monthly income in the region. The intensity of the conflict is measured through the popularity of the topic “war in Ukraine” in the media (assessed according to the database Factiva and media studies). Distance — the distance from the capital region to Donetsk or Luhansk — depending on which of the two cities closer.

Guriev and Melnikov found that in regions located closer to the conflict zone, residents demonstrate a higher level of prosocial behaviour in the weeks of higher intensity conflict.

“Rather, our results say about empathy: the greater the intensity of the conflict, the more prosocial behaviour in the regions close to the conflict area”, — explained Sergei Guriev. One of the opponents of the article, Professor of entrepreneurship and Finance, Chicago business school Luigi Zingales, suggested that the results can be explained by nationalism, says Guriev: military success leads to a resurgence of Pro-social behavior. “We believe that this is unlikely. Still no military success in Eastern Ukraine was not”, — said Guriev. Zingales also suggested to check determined whether the results obtained only in the regions bordering Eastern Ukraine. “We have checked this assumption. It turned out that it is not so: the effect remains significant even if we exclude the regions on the border with conflict zone”, — said Guriev.

The effect persists even when excluding the closest to the conflict regions and with the exception of “blood donation” from the list of recorded search queries, which indicates that the increase in prosocial behavior cannot be explained only by the direct impact of military action that is focused not solely on the victims (for example — the need to pass for their blood), and a wider range of people.

Other scientists were already able to show the relationship between prosocial behavior and military actions in the examples of Sierra Leone, Uganda, Burundi, Georgia, Nepal and other countries. “Over the last decade approximately 20 studies from more than 40 countries have discovered in surveys and behavioral experiments high steady relationship: the impact of war on the individual level, increases social co-operation at the local level, including participation in public life and prosocial behavior,” according to a review of the relevant work “Can the war to encourage cooperation?”, published by Michael Bauer and co-authors in a series of working papers National Bureau of economic research, USA (NBER).