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By John Helmer, Moscow

A Washington think-tank, funded by the US Government, has discovered that at least half of all Ukrainians think that not enough force has been used to put down the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Even more Ukrainians express confidence in the military – 66% in the pro-Kiev volunteer battalions, and 76% in the regular Ukrainian forces. At the same time, the poll reveals that 73% of the Ukrainians believe the country is now worse off than it was six months ago, before Petro Poroshenko was elected president. If the opinions of those living in the Donbass aren’t counted, the percentage of pessimists is still 69%.

For the first time in any poll conducted by polling organizations in Kiev, one in four Ukrainians expresses confidence in Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of the paramilitary Right Sector group. That’s eight percentage points better than former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. If the poll can be relied on, Yarosh is also drawing twice the amount of popular confidence than there is in the governor of Dniepropetrovsk, and one of the country’s richest businessmen, Igor Kolomoisky. Can this be the genuine article?

The new poll was commissioned by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). Headquartered in Washington, DC, IFES says “our independent expertise strengthens electoral systems”. Funding, according to the IFES website, comes from the State Department and its affiliated Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as government agencies in Canada, Australia and the UK. IFES identifies its expert on Ukraine as David Ennis, a Canadian.

The new Ukraine poll was published by IFES on September 26. An IFES press release on October 2, reported by the US Fox network, headlined the interpretation of the poll as: “Ukraine wary of fragile peace as patriotic wave brings acceptance of long conflict with Russia.” The release claims: “Sergei Melnichuk, the leader of a pro-Ukraine militia that operates near Luhansk, is number three on the [Radical Party] party list. The cease-fire ‘is a chance to re-arm so that later we can really hit them in the teeth and recapture our territory,’ he said by phone from the Luhansk region. ‘I am for peace, but I am prepared to fight.’”

IFES reports its poll was paid for by USAID. Polling was done by telephone and face-to-face interviews “throughout the country (excluding Crimea)”. In the small print, IFES acknowledges the sample numbers were different for different questions and answers. Outside Donetsk and Lugansk, 1,613 interviews were counted. In the final report the results were “weighted data [in order to be] representative of population of Ukraine outside Donbass.” Interviewing in Donetsk and Lugansk was highly selective, IFES acknowledges, and Lugansk city was excluded entirely. According to IFES, the results “were not representative but indicative of population in Donbas”.

That’s a judgement from IFES in Washington, which added this disclaimer to its publication: “The opinions expressed in this survey do not necessarily reflect the opinions of USAID or U.S. Government.”

The actual polling, interviewing and fieldwork was carried out on contract to IFES and USAID by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS). Earlier Ukraine polls conducted by KIIS can be read here. Another independent Kiev polling company, SOCIS, has also conducted countrywide polling. Here are its results. When not under contract to the US Government, the sampling by SOCIS last took 2,800 respondents; the most recent KIIS poll counted 2,040. The numbers indicate that the IFES sample last month was 42% smaller than the SOCIS standard; 21% less than the last KIIS survey.

State statistics suggest that before the war, the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk totalled 6.7 million, or about 15% of Ukraine’s aggregate population of 45.5 million. According to the sample numbers reported, IFES collected 18% of its sample from the two regions.

Reporting by KIIS and SOCIS in recent surveys discloses the rates of refusal to respond when pollsters identified themselves to their Ukrainian respondents and attempted to ask their questions. IFES does not reveal its refusal rate. When the last US Government-funded poll of Ukrainian opinions was carried out by the Gallup organization in April, the countrywide response rate reported was just 65%. That survey was paid for by another Washington group called the International Republican Institute. For the results of that poll, click here.

Just how much selectivity has been introduced between the two US Government polls can be inferred from answers the Ukrainians who agreed to be polled gave when asked whether they would vote to join NATO. In April, according to Gallup, USAID and Forbes, 44% of all Ukrainians said they were against joining NATO; 34% were in favour. In the southern regions of the country, opposition to NATO was 52% , in the eastern regions, 67%.

According to the latest IFES survey, there appears to have been a dramatic change, at least countrywide — 52% now support NATO; 26% are opposed.

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Click to enlarge
Source: http://www.ifes.org

Opposition to NATO, as indicated by the selected interviews in Donbass, has remained unchanged at 68%. In the south, opposition is now counted at 45%. In April those southerners who refused to give an opinion about NATO or claimed not to know amounted to 37%. According to IFES, this lot has dwindled to 27%. What IFES claims to report is that at least 10% of southerners who were unwilling to answer the NATO question in April told the US Government pollster in September they now support joining NATO.

That sounds like a decided hardening of Ukrainian hearts, at least outside the Donbass, towards those inside. It is the kind of recrimination that is typical of civil wars. But countrywide, IFES reveals that roughly half the country believes the war has made everything much worse than it was six months ago.

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The difference between those who think right, and those who think wrong, is equal to the margin for statistical error. The closer Ukrainians get geographically to the fighting, the more convinced they are the country is going in “the wrong direction”.

IFES has opted to interpret the numbers in the opposite direction, from west to east. It claims: “Ukrainians also have more optimistic views on the direction of the country and the state of Ukrainian democracy compared to IFES surveys in recent years. The survey also finds that 36 percent of Ukrainians outside Donbas believe the country is headed in the right direction and 39 percent say it is headed in the wrong direction. This is the highest percentage of Ukrainians saying the country is headed in the right direction since the 2005 IFES surveys in Ukraine.”

One question asked by KIIS has not been asked in countrywide polls by KIIS or SOCIS before. This is what Ukrainians of different regions say about whether too little or too much force has been used in the civil war so far. Apparently, a majority of 50% thinks there hasn’t been enough force.

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This assessment is strongest in the western regions (63%) and weakest in Donbass (19%). Just outside the borders of Donetsk and Lugansk, the IFES chart suggests that 41% of easterners, 39% of southerners, want more military operations.

chart3At the same time, there is a roughly equal division between those who favour more war and those who favour peace. As the table (right) indicates, 40% are hawks; 41% doves. Geographically, the war party shrinks as respondents live closer to the range of artillery.

In parallel, IFES reports the highest level of confidence gathered from the respondents is expressed towards the Ukraine’s military forces – 76%. A similar confidence is expressed by 66% in the “pro-Ukrainian volunteer battalions”. This answer was given in the week after the signing of the September 5 ceasefire. It followed the well-documented rout of the pro-Kiev forces in the Donbass. Western and Ukrainian studies of military operations in the two months preceding the ceasefire suggest that two-thirds of Ukrainian armour and artillery, all of the airforce, and at least 8,000 men were lost.

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When the confidence question was reframed towards Ukrainian politicians, Maidan protest leaders, military commanders, and oligarchs, negative sentiment grows; it is in the majority towards those figures representing the war party – Oleg Tyagnibok, head of the Svoboda party; Arsen Avakov, the Interior Minister; and Igor Kolomoisky, the Dniepropetrovsk governor since March and financier of volunteer battalions.

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Note the higher approval score for Right Sector leader, Dmitry Yarosh, compared with Yulia Tymoshenko. Note also that the sample reported on the bottom line, N=1,613, indicates that this question wasn’t asked of respondents in Donetsk or Lugansk.

In order to clarify what the reported results mean to those who carried out the polling in Kiev, and those who have published the results in Washington, the head of KIIS, Vladimir Paniotto, and the IFES expert on Ukraine, David Ennis, were asked several questions.

Questions

For KIIS, Paniotto confirmed the accuracy of the IFES report. He replied that “the question about the use of force was about the past. The respondents believe that if force had been used at the beginning then maybe [the outcome] would be better today. It’s easy to think that [more] force could have been used in the past. Currently, [most] people want everything to be settled down. The level of confidence in the army was high seven years ago, and then it began to decline. But still it remained higher than the political structures. The recent failures and problems the respondents associate with the management of the Army by its staff. In them there is a low percentage of confidence.”

As for the high level of confidence expressed in Prime Minister Yatseniuk, Paniotto said: “Perceptions are different between confidence [in the person] and voter preference. [Yatseniuk’s party] has 5%. The percentage of confidence is higher because people can trust more than one person, but vote for only the one.” As for Yarosh and Right Sector, “Yarosh has little chance to win election [to parliament]. He is supported by no more than 2%. But to be supported [by voters] and to be trusted is different in this case.”

At IFES the organization’s spokesman Daniela Colaiacovo, its expert on Ukraine, David Ennis, and its Deputy Director for Europe, Gavin Weise, refused to answer the questions.

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