Staunton, April 12 – Vladimir Putin insists that his moves in Ukraine are motivated by a desire to protect ethnic Russians, Russian speakers and, Moscow’s latest category, “pro-Russian people” who do not want to live under Kyiv, a view that has been uncritically accepted by large numbers of Russians in the Russian Federation and by many in the West.
But a new poll shows that few of the people on whose behalf Putin claims to be acting are interested in separatism from Ukraine or in having their regions become part of the Russian Federation. Instead, even in the eastern portions of Ukraine where Russian speakers form a large share of the population, overwhelming majorities want to remain in Ukraine.
According to the results of a poll by the Democratic Initiative of Ukraine released today and discussed by Andrey Illarionov in an Ekho Moskvy blog post, 89 percent of the residents of Ukraine consider that country their Motherland.
The poll, conducted in March and having a margin of error under 2.3 percent, found that the regional variation on this point was far less than Putin and many commentators in the West have suggested. Thus, 97 percent of the residents of the western Ukraine view that country as their own, 89 percent of the residents of the Donbas in the eastern part do as well.
Few in Ukraine support separatism. Only eight percent of the residents of the country as a whole favor separatism and joining another state, with the figures ranging from under one percent in western Ukraine to a high of 18 percent in the Donbas. And the same pattern holds about the formation of an independent state in the south east.
Only 11 percent of the Ukraine’s population as a whole support that idea. Only 10 percent in the south itself back it, and only 10 percent in the East do so. In the Donbas, that figure rises to 18 percent, still less than one resident in five. And few support joining southeastern Ukraine to Russia: only 9.5 percent in the south back it, only 11 percent in the east do so, and only 27 percent in the Donbas.
Even fewer want to see their region exit from Ukraine and become an independent state: six percent for Ukraine as a whole, two percent in the western portions of the country, and 17 percent in the Donbas, the poll found.
No one can deny that there are important regional differences in Ukraine about these issues, but what is striking — and what is obscured by Russian propaganda and its uncritical acceptance by many in the West –is that even in the eastern areas where Putin is presenting himself as a savior, overwhelming majorities want to remain in Ukraine.