Ukrainian Think Tanks Liaison Office in Brussels

Dynamics of Public Opinion in Ukraine in the “Prewar” Period (2008–2013)

From the start of monitoring of public opinion in Ukraine and Russia to the time of Russian military aggression against Ukraine in 2014, sociologists generally noted a relative stability in the dynamics of attitudes of Ukrainians toward Russia.

This prewar period of monitoring of public opinion in Ukraine regarding Russia can be schematically divided into two main stages:

1) the stage of a stable and high level of positive attitudes toward Russia (2008– 2010) and

2) the stage of a certain decline in positive attitudes toward Russia (2011–2013).

Stage of stable and high positive attitudes toward Russia (2008–2010)

As the monitoring data of KIIS show, the indicator “good attitude” toward Russia among Ukrainian citizens in the first stage (April 2008–October 2010) was sustained at a very high level; on average, 90 percent of respondents selected this option. Nearly 6% of Ukrainian citizens on average had a “bad attitude” toward Russia in the period from 2008 to 2010.

Also noteworthy is that the number of Ukrainians undecided in their sympathies or antipathies toward Russia was very low, on average amounting to 3–4% of the citizens polled in Ukraine.

It is worth noting that in this same period, the dynamics of public opinion in Russia regarding Ukraine were not characterized by the same sustained high level of positive attitudes. Instead, less than one year from the start of monitoring of public opinion in April 2008 and continuing to May 2009, the percentage of Russians positively inclined toward Ukraine fell sharply, from 55% to 33%.

However, in the second half of 2009 the dynamics began shifting sharply in the opposite direction, and the percentage of Russian citizens positively inclined toward Ukraine reached a peak of 70% in October 2010.

The acute decline in public opinion in Russia regarding Ukraine in 2008–2009 could have been dictated in part by a number of significant international political events. First and foremost among these potentially influential events was the NATO summit in Bucharest on April 2–4, 2008. Another event was the outbreak of the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, during the course of which Ukraine offered support to official Tbilisi, a move that was negatively perceived in Moscow. A third significant event was the unfolding of the so-called gas war at the turn of 2008–2009, when Moscow fully shut off the supply of Russian gas to Ukraine. The Russian mass media (at the time already controlled by the Kremlin) simultaneously went to work to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of Russian citizens.

Nonetheless, despite the openly unfriendly steps of the Russian leadership, during the first stage of monitoring (April 2008– October 2010) the stable dynamics of a positive attitude of Ukrainian citizens toward Russia were maintained.

Stage of a certain decline in the positive attitude toward Russia (2011–2013)

The second stage began schematically in November 2011, when sociologists registered a thirteen percentage point decline in Ukrainians’ positive attitudes toward Russia, from a maximum of 93% to a slightly more modest 80%.

However, the next stages of monitoring in 2012 showed that the indicator of “good attitude” toward Russia among Ukrainian citizens had grown somewhat (to 85%), with some further fluctuation around this benchmark.

The decline registered in November 2011 can be explained by both the corresponding dynamics of bilateral relations between Ukraine and Russia over this period and the overall foreign policy orientations of the Ukrainian leadership.

However, such steps did not bring about the expected counter-concessions on the part of Moscow regarding Ukraine. On the contrary, since 2011 the Russian side began resorting to such unfriendly measures as launching “product” and “customs” wars against Ukrainian exports.

The last prewar monitoring of public opinion in Ukraine regarding attitudes toward Russia, conducted on February 8–18, 2014, by KIIS and the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, showed a continuing decline in positive attitudes toward Russia. Compared with November 2013, when the decline was already recorded at 82%, in February 2014 this indicator had fallen to 78%. Such a change in Ukrainians’ attitudes toward Russia was dictated by dissatisfaction with the direct intervention of the Kremlin in the political processes in Ukraine.

Against the backdrop of Ukrainian citizens’ rising dissatisfaction with Yanukovych, the overt game of Russia in support of the latter and the permanent pressure regarding the suspension of Kyiv’s Eurointegration aspirations were perceived by a significant part of Ukrainians as manifestations of direct intervention in the internal affairs of the country. That perception had a far-reaching impact on public opinion in Ukraine.

Acute Transformation of Public Opinion in Ukraine as a Result of Russian Military Aggression (2014–2017)

Over almost the entire prewar period of monitoring of public opinion in Ukraine (September 2008–November 2013), practically no tangible sharp fluctuations in the overall dynamics of a positive attitude toward Russia were noted (with the exception of a certain decline in the period from the end of 2010 to the end of 2011). Monitoring conducted by KIIS in April–May 2014, however, showed stunning changes in public opinion in Ukraine. By this time the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol had already been illegally annexed by Russia, while in the Donbas region in April 2014 the Kremlin attempted to realize its “Russian Spring” scenario. As a result, compared to polling conducted in February 2014, the indicator of Ukrainian citizens’ positive attitudes toward Russia immediately fell by twenty-six percentage points, from 78% to 52%. At the same time, according to KIIS data, the share of Ukrainians with a more negative attitude toward Russia grew nearly three times, from 13% to 38%.

The steepest erosion of a good attitude toward Russia was observed in the western and central regions of Ukraine, where it declined by 40% and 33%, respectively, while in the South and East of Ukraine there was a decline of 21% and 15%, respectively.

However, as KIIS data show, the share of Ukrainians with positive attitudes toward Russia even with the onset of Russian aggression continued to constitute a slight majority (52% of respondents). This figure largely owed to the mood in the South and East, where the majority of citizens continued to express a positive attitude toward Russia (65% and 77%, respectively), even after the annexation of Crimea and the start of a siege of administrative buildings in a number of cities in the Donbas by pro-Russian separatists.

In September 2014, sociologists registered a further decline in the positive attitude of Ukrainian citizens toward Russia. For the first time over the entire period of monitoring a positive attitude was indicated by less than half the entire population (48%) while the share of Ukrainians with a negative attitude toward Russia increased to 41%. During the May and September 2014 polls, along with the question regarding the attitudes of Ukrainian citizens toward Russia, their attitudes toward residents of the country (Russians) and the leadership of Russia were also surveyed.

The September 2014 poll revealed that Russian aggression against Ukraine affected chiefly attitudes toward the leadership of the aggressor state (69% of Ukrainians were generally negative), while the positive attitudes of Ukrainian citizens toward Russians remained at a sufficiently high level (74% expressed a good attitude on the whole). In all macroregions of Ukraine without exception (from 63% in the Center to 91% in the East), the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens had a positive attitude toward Russians.

At the same time, a positive attitude toward the leadership of Russia was expressed only in the eastern macroregion (69%), while in all other regions and in Ukraine in general, this opinion was shared by only a minority of citizens.

Finally, in the December 2014 KIIS poll a further decline in the share of Ukrainian citizens with positive attitudes toward Russia was observed (from 48% to nearly 37%), along with a parallel increase in the share of Ukrainians with negative attitudes West Center South East Ukraine overall toward Russia (from 41% to 48%). Therefore, for the first time over the entire period of monitoring of public opinion in Ukraine (beginning in April 2008), the share of Ukrainians with a negative attitude toward Russia exceeded the share of those with a positive attitude toward their neighbor. However, already in the second half of 2014, during the full-scale intervention of regular Russian military forces into the territory of Ukraine (August 23–24, 2014) the fact of Russian aggression in Ukraine became glaringly obvious and persuasive to the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens.

In the first half of 2015 the overall trend toward a decline in positive attitudes toward Russia was sustained, and by May 2015 the percentage of Ukrainian citizens with a positive attitude toward Russia had reached a nadir (30%), while the percentage of those with a negative attitude began reaching an absolute majority (56%). Only in September 2015 did the trend that emerged with the start of Russian aggression against Ukraine begin to change slightly.

However, the results of later polls conducted by KIIS once again established a certain decrease in this indicator, to 39%, in January 2017, followed by an increase to 44% in May and a decline again to 37% in September 2017. Thus the dynamics of this trend after the decline over 2014–2015 require additional explanation and research.

One way or another, the improvement in attitudes toward Russia, as the sociological monitoring data indicate, is associated with a change in attitude toward the citizens of Russia but not at all with any change in attitude toward its leadership.

Public Opinion in Ukraine in the Context of the Annexation of Crimea

The transformation in the attitudes of Ukrainian citizens toward Russia and Russia’s citizens began immediately after the military aggression of Russia on the territory of Crimea.

In this context it seemed expedient to also learn how Ukrainian citizens saw the future of Crimea. For this purpose, in May 2016 the DIF jointly with the Razumkov Center’s Sociological Service conducted nationwide polling in all regions of Ukraine, with the exception of Crimea and the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The results of the polling demonstrated a firm conviction on the part of the absolute majority of Ukrainian citizens (69%) that Crimea should be part of Ukraine. Moreover, the absolute majority of respondents in all the major macroregions of the country with the exception of the South of Ukraine (where the response was registered by the relative majority of 49%) shared this opinion. In the South and in the Donbas, 16% of those polled believe that Crimea should be part of Russia.

At the same time, rather optimistic expectations regarding the prospects of this territory being returned to Ukraine prevailed (54%), though the majority of these optimists (34%) were inclined to the opinion that the realization of such a scenario would take a long time. This vision contrasts sharply with the vision of Russian citizens. After the annexation of Crimea it is possible to speak of the formation in Russian public opinion of a so-called “postCrimea consensus,” or nearly unanimous support for the idea that the territory of the occupied peninsula belongs to Russia (87%). Moreover, 79% of Russians are inclined to feel that Russia, through annexing Crimea, is returning to its traditional role as a great state and affirming its interests in the post-Soviet space.

In Ukraine, on the contrary, the relative majority (45%) of respondents are inclined to see in the act of the annexation of Crimea the “growth of adventurism of the Russian authorities, which in this way is trying to distract the Russian population from real social and economic problems, rampant corruption and dissatisfaction of the people in the ruling power in Russia.

These diametrically opposed moods testify that the annexation of Crimea by Russia will probably remain a bone of contention in the context of public opinion of Ukraine and Russia for a long time.

CONCLUSIONS

The data adduced in this blog and obtained through regular monitoring of public opinion in Ukraine during the prewar period (2008–2013) confirm a fairly high level of positive attitudes toward Russia. This level persisted despite the appearance of different conflicts during the period, in particular the trade and gas wars and the openly unfriendly steps taken by the Russian authorities. In the period from 2008 to 2013 the indicator “good attitude” toward Russia in Ukraine fell slightly only once, on the cusp of 2010 and 2011.

Russian military aggression against Ukraine in 2014, initially hybrid and later open, became the determining factor in the rapid decline in the percentage of Ukrainian citizens who were positively inclined toward Russia. Moreover, the decline was observed among residents in all regions of Ukraine without exception.

At the same time, this decline was associated with the sharp exacerbation of attitudes first and foremost toward the Russian leadership, while the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens continued to show more positive than negative attitudes toward Russians, even after the start of Russian aggression.

Beginning with the September 2015 polling, attitudes toward Russia saw a certain improvement, with fluctuations in both directions. It is clear, however, that the factor of military aggression of Russia cannot be quickly negated because of the logical transformations in Ukrainian sociopolitical discourse concerning the very paradigm of perception of the neighboring country.

The results of monitoring of public opinion in Ukraine and Russia regarding the future of Crimea also point to the profound and seemingly adamantine contradictions in the interpretation by the two countries’ citizens of one of the determinant issues for the future of Russian-Ukrainian bilateral relations.

Author: Ruslan Kermach, political analyst of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation (Kyiv, Ukraine)

 

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