Neutrality Is Popular in Ukraine, More so Than NATO Membership
Many in the east would not mind "military cooperation" with Russia
Text is from February 2020.
Although support for NATO among most Ukrainian political elites appears solid, our recent survey shows that people in Ukraine (excluding Crimea and separatist-controlled parts of the Donbas) have mixed feelings about NATO and Russia. Where Ukrainians see their country depends on where Ukrainians live. Crucially, despite the Russian seizure of Crimea and years of war in the Donbas, most Ukrainians want their country to be neutral, not militarily aligned with Russia or NATO.
Good relations? Yes. Foreign bases? No.
For a survey of 2,212 respondents, conducted for us by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), we created a three-point scale to measure the intensity and reach of respondent attitudes to both Russia and NATO as potential military partners. This means that instead of the normal one or two binary questions, we asked six questions in all.
The first set of questions asked simply whether respondents agreed that their country should develop good and positive relations with Russia (or NATO). The second asked whether respondents agreed that their country should engage in military cooperation with Russia (or join NATO). The final set asked whether respondents agreed that their country should allow the stationing of Russian (or NATO) “troops and bases on your national territory?” This assessed the degree to which respondents agreed with the implications of their country belonging to a military alliance.
Here’s what we found
Our results show that Ukrainians want good relations with NATO and Russia. Joining a military alliance with either is a minority position, but only slightly so for NATO, as shown in the figure below. Similarly, most Ukrainians do not agree that their country should host foreign troops and military bases. On this last point, Ukrainians we surveyed have a stronger aversion to Russian troops and bases, an understandable position given that Russia annexed Crimea and actively shapes the military standoff in the Donbas. [An understandable position given that the 4 million in rebel Donbass were not asked.]
The survey results clearly indicate a divided Ukraine. Only a plurality of Ukrainian adults (44 percent) support NATO membership, and only a quarter want to allow NATO troops and bases on Ukrainian territory. By comparison, 26 percent want military cooperation with Russia — but only 4 percent would allow Russian troops and bases.
Many academics and pundits have concentrated on differences in attitudes between citizens of Ukrainian and Russian nationality — our survey sample includes 9 percent who identify as Russian — but we found that Ukraine’s macro-regional differences were much more noticeable. Our results show that the regional differences in Russian and NATO military cooperation and doubts about the full implications of such cooperation are remarkably consistent in both the west and east regions.
Survey participants in the east and south regions are more skeptical about NATO membership, while the west and center (including the capital, Kyiv) are about three times (60 percent vs. 20 percent in the other regions) more positive about NATO ties. A similar regional divide is evident in responses about Russian military cooperation — and even about allowing NATO troops and bases.
Neutrality or alliance?
Results from other geopolitical questions in the survey amplify these findings. On the proposition “It is best for our country to take a neutral position, not to join any military alliance,” a slight majority (50.4 percent) of respondents agreed, 32.6 percent said no and 17 percent did not provide an answer.
We also noticed a 10-point gap on multiple questions between people of Ukrainian and Russian nationality — so 49 percent to 58 percent, respectively, on support for the proposition of neutrality. But there was a much wider regional gap on this question: From the west (30 percent) to center/Kyiv (42 percent) to east (62 percent) and south (72 percent), Ukrainians held widely divergent views on this question about neutrality.
Ukraine continues to be a backdrop for U.S. domestic political dramas, a cockpit for scandal-mongering or a divine mission for “freedom’s front line.” Lost in this fracas are the internal complexities of this large European country. Most Ukrainians refuse the either/or terms of the Russia-West antagonism. Despite losing people and territory to Russia, Ukraine’s geographic divergences endure. And most of its citizens demonstrate an aspiration to get along with both Russia and the West.
Source: The Washington Post