By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times
KIEV, Ukraine — Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and alleged support of pro-Russia separatists elsewhere in Ukraine are driving more Ukrainians to favor alliance with the European Union and NATO, a Kiev social researcher reported Wednesday.
That is exactly the economic and security shift the Kremlin has been trying to prevent.
For the first time in more than a decade of polling Ukrainians on their attitudes toward the Western alliances, a majority — 52 percent — said they favored steering Ukraine’s foreign policy toward the EU, said Andriy Bychenko, sociological services director for the Razumkov Center.
The share of respondents preferring to orient Ukraine’s trade and political relations toward Russia was 16.6 percent.
The results marked a decline in pro-Russia sentiment — from a nearly even split with pro-Europe attitudes — measured in previous polls since 2000, Bychenko said.
“The main reason for this change is the aggression by Russia against Ukraine,” the pollster said, linking the dramatic shift westward to Russia’s invasion of the Crimean peninsula in late February and annexation of the territory several weeks later after a hasty and widely condemned referendum.
The Razumkov Center’s latest survey was based on interviews April 25-29 with 2,012 adults across Ukraine, with the exception of Crimea, to which Ukrainian social researchers no longer have access. The peninsula’s 2 million residents represent about 4 percent of Ukraine’s population of 46 million. The Razumkov Center survey reported a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percent.
A plurality of Ukrainians remains opposed to joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Bychenko said, with the latest survey results showing 41.6 percent against joining the military bloc and 36 percent saying they aspire to membership. But that sentiment too has shifted significantly in recent weeks from what had consistently been well more than 50 percent opposed to alliance with the former Soviet Union’s Cold War adversaries, he said.
Russia has defended its actions beyond its borders that are widely viewed as aggressive, as in the 2008 war against the former Soviet republic of Georgia, as necessary to prevent what the Kremlin sees as its historical sphere of influence falling under the sway of NATO.
“You can say that Russia doesn’t understand the reactions of Ukrainians to their actions,” Bychenko told journalists in unveiling the latest poll results. “Thanks to the actions of Russia in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, you have a situation where Ukrainians are becoming more pro-NATO.”
AFP Photo/Genya Savilov