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Survey Says
Ukrainians Want to Stay Together

A new poll done by the University of Maryland and the U.S. Institute of Peace has found that after a year of grinding conflict and a cratering economy, Ukrainians strongly oppose their country being divided. The USIP website has a write-up of the event where the findings were presented:

Even in the country’s East, two-thirds favor a united status for Ukraine, with one-third preferring greater autonomy for regions in the war-torn Donbas area.  And in locations controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, half of respondents still favor maintaining Ukraine as a single country; secession is the preference for only 40 percent, a finding that is particularly striking considering many civilians who oppose the separatists likely were among the 1.5 million Ukrainians who have fled the violence.

And in what ought to be read as a blow to Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to integrate Ukraine into his Eurasian Union project, only 13% of the population favored stronger relations with Russia, as opposed to the 47% who favored moving closer to Europe. That, however, still leaves a sizable chunk of the population not committed to either path forward:

Still, the poll results show enough resistance in the country’s East to a closer alignment with the EU that pressing the point too strongly in that direction could spark greater backlash and polarization, said [Steven] Kull, who is a senior research scholar in the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). Moves by Ukraine’s leadership to draw closer to the EU have “provoked a reaction in the eastern part of the country that Russia has effectively exploited,” he said.  But the resistance is strong enough that it’s likely rooted in unease that predated the conflict.

Kull said he sees neutrality as a point of consensus among Ukrainians on the questions of the country’s alignment with the EU or Russia. Almost two-thirds of respondents find it at least tolerable for Ukraine to take a neutral stance between the EU and Russia, including a large majority of 67 percent in the separatist-held areas. The poll included an oversample of 403 interviews in the Donbas region and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent for the country as a whole.

These numbers have largely remained constant since the war began, which adds an additional layer of tragedy to the whole affair. As WRM wrote as early as December 2013 when the Maidan was kicking off, it was European commitment to a ‘post-historical’ worldview that largely blinded policymakers in Brussels to the fact that they were handing Putin an excellent opportunity to exploit Ukraine’s divisions.

The good news for the West, however, is that the strong commitment to preserving Ukraine’s territorial integrity among its citizens likely means that outright land grabs by Russia (beyond, but perhaps also including Crimea) will not go as smoothly as Putin might hope. European leaders who would really just like to see this mess go away and have relations with Russia normalized, even at the cost of partitioning Ukraine, should think twice.

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  • Greg Olsen

    The results of the survey point to the best possible outcome for all parties involved. The US and EU don’t want to underwrite a security guarantee for Ukraine and involve themselves in a shooting war with a nuclear-armed expansionist Russia. Ukraine wants to maintain territorial integrity and access to Western markets. The best possible outcome is: (1) Ukraine needs to write off the loss of Crimea, which is reasonable given the historical claims that Russia can make on the territory; (2) Ukraine as a federal republic, giving the Eastern region greater autonomy; (3) Finlandization of Ukraine’s foreign policy; (4) a series of bilateral trade agreements between Ukraine and the West as an alternative to EU membership. Finlandization is the only rational response for a small state bordering an expansionist great power in the absence of trustworthy security guarantees from another great power.

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