Kyiv, July 9, 2014. As President Poroshenko’s Anti-Terrorism Operation against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas gains traction, Ukrainian support for a union state between Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus has dropped precipitously throughout all regions of the country. According to the Ukrainian sociological organization Rating, support for a single union state with the three East Slavic nations has decreased from 42 percent in July 2012 to 18 percent in June 2014.
Over the past three years, “Rating” has conducted this poll six times, asking respondents whether they support a unified government for Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Although the nature and government structure of such a state remained unspecified in the poll, Ukrainians were asked whether they would support a union state for the three nations.
The results of the June 2014 poll demonstrate the lowest recorded support for a union among the three East Slavic countries and a 29 percent decrease in support since 2011. Interestingly, Rating previously conducted this poll in February 2014, at the height of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv and other regions of the country. In February 2014, 29 percent of respondents supported a union state between Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Three months later, following the ouster of former President Yanukovych, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and Moscow’s support for pro-Russian separatism in the Donbas, support for a union state has dropped a further 11 percent, from 29 percent to 18.
One of the most interesting findings from the Rating poll is the regional breakdown of support for a union state among Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. An infographic released by the agency shows that in both July 2012 and June 2014, support for a Slavic union was higher in the oblasts of eastern and southern Ukraine than in the country’s central and western regions. In July 2014, support for a union was only 6 percent in western Ukraine, with 86 percent of respondents opposing a potential union. In contrast, 73 percent of Donbas respondents in July 2012 said that they supported an east Slavic union state. In eastern and southern Ukraine, 52 percent and 58 percent, respectively, supported a proposed union state.
The regional breakdowns of the June 2014 poll show a similar dichotomy between western and central Ukraine on the one hand, and eastern and southern Ukraine on the other. In western Ukraine, support for a union state is now nearly nonexistent, with 96% of respondents opposing the idea. However, support for a union state in Ukraine’s eastern and southern oblasts has dropped significantly. Whereas a large majority of the Donbas (73 percent) once supported the idea of a union state, today only 44 percent of the polled Donbas residents support such a proposal. In eastern Ukraine, which Rating defined as Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporzhzhia oblasts, 27 percent of respondents support a union state and 61 percent oppose the idea. In the southern Ukrainian oblasts of Odesa, Mykolaiv, and Kherson 29 percent of respondents support a union state and 59 percent are opposed. This data demonstrates a 25 percent and 29 percent drop in support for a Slavic union in eastern and southern Ukraine respectively. It should be noted that the data for southern Ukraine in July 2012 includes Crimea, while Rating did not include Crimea in the June 2014 poll.
In light of the Russian annexation of Crimea in March and continued Russian-supported hostilities in the Donbas, this data is particularly interesting. It’s perhaps unsurprising that support for a union of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus has fallen significantly since Russia’s initiation of hostilities against Ukraine. For anyone familiar with Ukraine, it’s no shock that support for a unified east Slavic government is nearly nonexistent in western Ukraine, and extremely low in Ukraine’s central and northern oblasts. More interesting is the change in attitudes among Ukrainian residents of the eastern and southern oblasts, particularly in the Donbas. A firm majority of southern and eastern Ukraine, excluding the Donbas, are now opposed to the proposal. Sixty-one percent and 59 percent of eastern and southern Ukraine, respectively, oppose the idea. If Russian President Putin and the Russian government hoped to use Russian intervention in Crimea and the Donbas to incite support for Russia, their approach has clearly failed. Instead, support for the idea of an unbreakable bond between east Slavic peoples, as expressed through a unified state, has fallen drastically. It appears that many Ukrainians who once supported closer relations to Russians and Belarusians because of linguistic, religious, and cultural ties have changed their attitudes over the past several months.
Decreasing support for a union state in the Donbas may indicate dwindling support for pro-Russian forces. As Donbas residents are increasingly caught in the fighting between separatists and Ukrainian soldiers, attitudes towards a potential union with Russia has dropped significantly over the past two years. A union with Russia is the primary goal of most separatists in the Donbas, and the fact that only 44 percent of local residents support an unspecified east Slavic union is telling.
Another important aspect of the data is that 31 percent of Donbas residents replied that it was “difficult to answer” the poll question. A large number of residents still remain undecided in their attitudes toward Russia and a fully independent Ukraine. This might indicate that, depending on the outcomes and actions of policies coming out of Kyiv, a large number of Donbas residents who are currently indifferent or conflicted about the parties of the conflict might come to oppose the actions of pro-Russian separatists in the region. The Kyiv government has an opportunity to convince residents of the Donbas of the follies of separatism, and encourage the region to play an integral role in a unified Ukraine. Ultimately, Kyiv can still and should find solutions to work with this region in the continued development of a united and fully independent Ukraine.
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