March 4, 2014 | By Dina Smeltz

Ukrainian and Russian Views of the Crisis: February Polls (Before Crimea)

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 ***
Western Central South Eastern
Influence of the West, seeking to draw Ukraine into the orbit of their political interests 5 17 44 57
Nationalist sentiment 10 17 35 45
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
Other 2 3 8 6
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:

  Regions
Western Central South Eastern
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.

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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