The Interpreter

A special project of Institute of Modern Russia
Pro-Ukraine demonstration in Odessa on 30 March 2014. Photo by O. Kostiantyonov

Putin’s Only Option in Ukraine Is To Use Force, Illarionov Says

Staunton, April 7 The only option Vladimir Putin has if he is to advance his policies in Ukraine is to use force because the majority of Ukrainians in every region of that country do not support him, do not believe what he says, and do not want what he wants, according to Russian economist Andrey Illarionov.

In a post on Ekho Moskvy today, Illarionov analyzes the results of a recent poll which shows that Russian propaganda notwithstanding, there is little support for Putin’s approach or policies in any part of the country, including the eastern and southern parts.

A majority of Ukrainian citizens across that country oppose the federalization of the country that Putin has demanded and consider Moscow’s actions in Crimea an invasion and occupation of a portion of independent Ukraine, the poll shows. Consequently, Putin can’t count on popular support to promote his policies but must use force – or back down.

Three out of four Ukrainians – 74 percent – support the preservation of the country’s unitary system, Illarionov says, while only one in seven – 14 percent – support the idea of federalizing the country. Even in the eastern part of Ukraine, that figure rises only to 26 percent, and supporters of a unitary Ukraine constitute a majority of 53 percent.

Asked what form Ukraine should take, 64 percent of all Ukrainians said that it should remain a unitary state, 10 percent said it should be a unitary state but without Crimea, and 14 percent said it should become a federal state. And only one percent said that Ukraine should be split into several countries.

There are regional differences but they are not as large as Putin and his supporters suggest. In the West and Center of the country, 86 and 78 percent of the population respectively support the idea of Ukraine as a unitary state, while in the South and East, those figures are 44 and 45 percent.

Only three and six percent of Ukrainians in the West and Center support the idea of federalism, while 22 and 26 percent of those in the South and East do so. But even in the South and East, only two and four percent respectively support the idea of dividing Ukraine into several countries.

Moreover, Illarionov says, the poll shows that a majority of Ukrainian citizens – 54 percent – consider Russia’s actions in Crimea an invasion and occupation of independent Ukraine. Only 13 percent overall accept Putin’s version that Moscow came to “the defense of Russian-language citizens of Ukraine.”

Even in the eastern portion of Ukraine, 30 percent of those surveyed called Putin’s actions in Crimea an invasion and occupation, but even fewer there – 22 percent – said they accepted as true Putin’s claim that he was defending Russian speakers, Illarionov reports.

Thus, “the balance of anti-Putin and pro-Putin versions of Russian actions in Crimea is positive in Ukraine as a whole and in all of its regions.”

Given this pattern, Illarionov says, “Putin and the Putinists have no chance for victory in Ukraine, including it its South and East” if they rely on the freely expressed view of Ukrainian citizens. The same thing was true in Crimea, he continues, and consequently, if he is going to proceed elsewhere in Ukraine, the Kremlin leader has no choice but to use “crude force.”