While Russian President Vladimir V. Putin stated today that he saw no reason for a Russian military intervention in eastern Ukraine right now, he left the option on the table, saying that Russia “reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect” Russian speakers in the country’s south and east if necessary. A recent (February 21-25) survey in Ukraine shows that even in southern and eastern regions of the country, many Ukrainians did not sympathize with either Yanukovych nor the protesters. And a poll conducted earlier in February (8-18) in Russia found that a solid majority of the Russian public did not want their country to interfere.
These are the findings from two complementary surveys conducted in Russia by the Levada Center, and in Ukraine by the Kiev Institute of Sociology (KIIS). Clear from current developments on the ground, geography is a key factor in Ukrainian public attitudes because it coincides with ethnic and linguistic differences. These cleavages were noted in a previous December 2013 blog post here, discussing how Ukrainians in the northern, western, and Kiev regions of the country were more likely to express pro-European inclinations, and those in the east and south were more likely to lean toward Russia.
Perceptions of Protest Motivations
In the more recent KIIS survey, Ukrainians were first asked about various motivations for the protests. Residents of western (including Lviv) and central Ukraine (including Kiev) most frequently named corruption in the Yanukovych government [see table below]. In the western areas, about half also named "the desire to make Ukraine a civilized country, like other countries in Europe" followed by "a sense of civic pride, not to accept arbitrary power" and to protest the "tough action taken by the Berkut" (Ukrainian riot police). In the central region, about one in three mentioned these three items as well. In the southern (including Odessa and Crimea) and eastern (including Donetsk and Kharkiv) regions of Ukraine, the most frequent mentions were "the influence of the West, seeking to draw Ukraine into the orbit of their political interests" and nationalist sentiment, followed by government corruption. This corresponded with overall sentiment in Russia, according to the Levada survey (where 43% mentioned influence of the West, 31% nationalist sentiment, 17% corrupt government under Yanukovych). Few in any region thought that the desire to liberate Ukraine from Russian influence was a top motivation (at most, 25% in the western portion of Ukraine; only 11% in Russia proper).
Motivations of the Protests in Ukraine by region [multiple responses were allowed]:
|Ukraine Regions ***|
|Influence of the West, seeking to draw Ukraine into the orbit of their political interests||5||17||44||57|
|Corrupt regime of Yanukovych||68||55||27||20|
|Desire to liberate Ukraine from economic and political dictatorship in Russia, to become independent||25||13||7||4|
|The desire to make Ukraine a civilized country, like other countries in Europe||53||31||15||12|
|Sense of civic pride, does not accept arbitrary power||48||31||14||5|
|Protest against tough action "Berkut" / Internal Troops||43||34||19||4|
|Difficult to answer||3||8||16||10|
*** West - Volyn, Rivne, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Transcarpathian, Khmelnytsky, Chernivtsi region. Central - Vinnytsia, Zhytomyr, Sumy, Chernihiv, Poltava, Kirovograd, Cherkassy, Kiev region, Kiev. South - Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Odessa region, Crimea (including Sevastopol). East - Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv region.
Where Sympathies Lie
These same geographic divides are linked to sympathies in the current political situation. At the time of this survey (February 21-25), eight in ten western Ukrainians fell on the side of the protesters in the conflict in Ukraine (see table below). Residents of central Ukraine tended to sympathize more with the protesters but a third were neutral. Those living in the southern area of the country were more likely to favor the Yanukovych government over the protesters, but a plurality said they sympathize with neither side. In Eastern Ukraine, a slight majority sympathized with Yanukovych, but a substantial portion were neutral toward both sides.
Sympathies in the Current Standoff by region:
|On the side of the government of Viktor Yanukovych||3||11||32||52|
|On the side of the protesters||80||51||20||8|
|Neither the one nor on the other side||13||33||42||39|
|Difficult to answer||4||6||7||1|
In Early February, Russian Public Wanted to Stay on Sidelines
In Russia itself, a majority (63%) said they supported neither side in the Ukrainian conflict; about one in ten Russians supported either Yanukovych (14%) or the protesters (9%). This preference to remain neutral was even more clear from a February 1-2, 2014 VCIOM poll in Russia, where 73 percent of Russians preferred that their government not interfere in Ukraine because it is an internal matter of the Ukrainian people. Only 15 percent of Russians supported government attempts to "suppress the illegal seizure of power" in Ukraine.