Views Out of Ukraine

May 8, 2014 2:01 a.m.

Pew Research is out tonight with a detailed public opinion survey of Ukraine. The results are fascinating and show the limits of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy of shaking Ukraine until it breaks, with the hopes of grabbing up the shards in the east. The main takeaways from the poll are that Ukrainians have little faith in the provisional government (solid but not overwhelming support in the west, very little support in the east) and are deeply divided over the question of the status of languages (Ukrainian and Russian). But they appear overwhelmingly opposed to any division of the country. And even in the east there is a general hostility to Russia’s interference in the country’s affairs.

1. Ukrainians want to maintain a unified state with its current borders. On most of the key measures we would expect western Ukraine to want a unified state, oppose Russian influence, etc. What is notable is that those in the east mainly feel the same way.

On whether the country should maintain its current borders or allow regions to secede, for all of Ukraine it is 77% for unity, 14% allow regions to secede. In the west it’s 93% to 4%. But in the east it’s 70% to 18%. Even among Russian speakers the number is 58% to 27%.

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2. There are regional and linguistic differences in the population over the role of Russia. But in the east an overwhelming proportion of the population says Russia is having a negative influence in the country. And even a slight majority of Russian speakers say Russia is having a negative influence.

The change in attitudes toward Russia over recent years also looks very bad for Putin …

3. Easterners are very suspicious of the government in Kyiv. But even in the West there are misgivings.

Taken together the numbers help explain the current standoff. Putin has very little to work with in terms of support within eastern Ukraine for breaking off parts of the country. Ukrainians overwhelmingly support the territorial integrity of the country. But there are sufficient internal divisions – over language, suspicions of the Kyiv government, etc. – to make it difficult for the central government to fully exert itself in the east. Thus Kyiv has been hard pressed to clamp down on the mix of “pro-Russian” paramilitaries and infiltrated Russian special forces operating in the east. Thus the slow motion crisis continues.

On all of these fronts the outstanding exception is Crimea, where the population is almost universally pro-Russian and seems overwhelmingly content with annexation. It is very difficult to look at the numbers from Crimea and see any scenario in which the peninsula is reunited to Ukraine. But the eastern half of the country (even ethnic Russians) sees things very differently.

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