WASHINGTON — Despite stark differences in opinions about how to proceed in the wake of Russian incursions, a poll released Monday suggests Ukrainians want the nation to remain united.
The poll showed that 47 percent of Ukrainians want to move toward the European Union and away from Russia. Residents in the north and west of the country were significantly more in favor of joining the EU than the east.
But the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, said those statistics don’t capture prevailing attitudes.
“Ukraine is more united than ever in the face of Russian aggression,” Taylor said.
Taylor cited poll findings that show 85 percent of Ukrainians nationwide favored a united Ukraine and 79 percent disapprove of Russian President Vladamir Putin’s actions.
“I find this to be a pretty dramatic rejection of the Russian point of view,” Taylor said during a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The poll of more than 2,000 Ukrainian citizens was conducted by telephone and in face-to-face interviews from Feb. 13 to 15. The poll was commissioned by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology.
Ukraine is not uniformly against moving towards Russia, the poll suggests. The north and west of the country both sided with the EU more than other regions.
“There is not a clear desire to move toward Russia, but there is resistance to moving westward,” said Steven Kull, the director of the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland and the study’s primary investigator. “At its core, I think it’s a cultural phenomena more than a political phenomena.”
On other issues, the country was similarly split – the east opposed the U.S. sending weapons to rebel fighters. In the north and west, the majority supported it.
Although some opinions are divided by region, that is not necessarily a problem, said Catherine Kelleher, a fellow at the Wilson Center who has held several high-level national security positions in the Carter and Clinton administrations.
“The analogy is better made to Germany where even in a divided country, one that is reinforced in every way that the leadership could, there still was the sense of fundamental German-ness as a bound of unity,” Kelleher said.
Kull said that he doesn’t interpret the report as saying Ukraine has fragmented, but that there is “an intense conflict about which way to go.”
The U.S. should support Ukraine both financially and militarily in order to stop Russian aggression, Taylor said.
“We should also defend and beef up the defenses in the NATO nations that border Russia,” he said. “If we are trying to deter the Russians from what they have been doing and that is first invading Crimea and then invading the southeastern part of Ukraine, and we don’t want them to do that, then we need to push back.”