December 19, 2013 | By Dina Smeltz

Split Personality: Ukrainians on the EU versus Russia

I recently came across the article "Goodbye Putin" in the December 14 edition of The Economist, stating that while President Viktor Yanukovich had made a choice to align the country with Russia, the people of Ukraine - by taking to the streets - had chosen a European future. The author put forth the idea that "a majority of Ukrainians share the crowed's aim of integration with the EU."  But it's not that simple.

An International Foundation on Electoral Systems (IFES) survey conducted in October-November 2013 by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) found that nearly identical percentages of Ukrainians said they should have closer economic relations with Russia (34%) as say they should with the EU (35%);  17 percent said both.  On another question,  just slightly more said that Ukraine should take steps to join the European Union (37%) as said that they should join Russia's Customs Union (33%).  An additional 15 percent said Ukraine should not join either of them.

The majority of Ukrainians were dissatisfied with Yanukovich's handling of relations with Russia (68%) - but this result could reflect both those who think relations are too close and those who think relations are not close enough. Half were also dissatisfied with his performance in addressing the status of Ukraine and the EU.

Many following the situation in Ukraine have pointed out that there are also significant regional differences on these issues, and these differences emerge in the IFES survey as well. Ukrainians in the northern, western, and Kyiv regions of the country are more likely to express pro-European inclinations, and those in the east and south are more likely to lean toward Russia. Residents in the center of the country now tend to favor Europe over Russia, though in 2012 they were more pro-Russia than pro-EU.

Just as it shouldn't be assumed that the Ukrainian protesters fully represent the mainstream in Ukraine, neither should it be assumed that all Ukrainians are ready to embrace European democratic values. The IFES poll found opinions quite divided on whether democracy is preferable to other systems of government: while 37 percent say it is, 21% say that in certain situations a non-democratic system may be preferable, and 29% say the system of government doesn't matter to them.

As much as I'm sympathetic toward the protesters in Kyiv, it's important to recognize that there are a lot of other average Ukrainians who do not support a European future for the country. Public opinion is proof.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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