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The Frontline Scholar: Dr. Vera Mironova

Battlefields, war-zones, and lecture theaters

Dr. Vera Mironova is a Russian-American academic, scholar, award-winning writer, producer, speaker, research fellow and policy consultant specializing in armed conflict.

She is often referred to as ‘The Frontline Scholar’ due to her experiences embedded with the Iraq Special Operations Forces (ISOF) as they recaptured the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS in 2016-2017, documented in her 2019 book From Freedom Fighters to Jihadists: Human Resources of Non State Armed Groups (Oxford University Press).

A seasoned commentator on armed conflicts around the world

A strong believer that first-hand battlefield experience outranks desk research alone, she is no stranger to dangerous assignments. Much of the past decade has seen her focused on the complexities of radical armed groups, and civilians affected by their actions, working in conflict zones such as Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Yemen, the DRC, and Myanmar. She features regularly in media as a subject-matter expert and commentator on armed conflict.

Dr. Mironova’s valuable learnings have helped shed light on the business of radical extremism, the murky under-belly of post-conflict judicial proceedings, prisoner mistreatment and exploitation, and the direct implications of foreign policy on conflict zones.

She is marked out in the academic crowd by her willingness to risk-take, her unique and wide-reaching access to her source material, as well as her trademark combat pants and multi-colored hairstyles.

At home in the field

Dr. Mironova threw away the academics’ rulebook with regards to personal safety by embedding with ISOF during Mosul’s liberation from ISIS. The battle and aftermath were well-documented through her writings for leading public policy and international relations publications, while her personal photos shared to her social media capture glimpses of the horror that awaited the troops there.

Prior to this, in 2014 Dr. Mironova found herself one of the last foreign civilians in Sana’a during its conquest by Houthi rebel forces.

In Ukraine she witnessed the nuances of the conflict in the East while conducting research along the contested front line. Despite her Russian origins, Dr. Mironova was able to embed herself successfully with ultra right-wing Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups.

As a woman in her thirties, often operating solo, she presents an unusual proposition to her intended interviewees. She credits her ability to engage and foster relations with radical armed fighters around the world on her transparency and desire to find a common humanity.

“I have nothing to hide,” she explains, “and ultimately every individual has a story they want to share.”

On many occasions, her encounters with foreign fighters have resulted in unprecedented access to primary source materials, including speaking directly with ISIS fighters in the midst of conflict, and sleeper cells in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. She has been extensively tailed, threatened, and even evaded kidnap attempts.

Award-winning author

Her award-winning first book From Freedom Fighters to Jihadists: Human Resources of Non-State Armed Groups (Oxford University Press) was published in 2019.

Her work uncovers alarming inconsistencies in state strategies for degrading non-state rebel and extremist groups, and explores the complexities both of growing membership and maintaining loyalty within a limited pool of potential resources. Her research uncovered the hidden rifts within the ISIS that later led to in-fighting among its members.

Dr. Mironova’s unique insights, gained from documented interactions with hundreds of members of armed groups, and those tasked with destroying them, reveal a fascinating reliance on traditionally capitalist modus operandi, with powerful implications for state and multi-lateral actors.

Dr. Mironova is a visiting Research Fellow at Harvard University and a regular contributor to Foreign Policy, among other publications.