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By John Helmer, Moscow

Eastern Ukrainians are convinced that the Kremlin will serve their interests best in the current tussle over constitutional rights, law and order, if President Vladimir Putin keeps Russian forces on the Russian side of the frontier. This view isn’t changing as partition of the country hardens, and violence in the east and south becomes worse.

The interpretation a US Government-funded polling operation draws from this is quite different from the conclusions the Ukrainians themselves are drawing. That’s because there are questions the US poll didn’t ask, and Ukrainian pollsters did. Publication of the US Government polling also reveals there were Ukrainian answers in March which Washington has omitted to report in April.

The latest Ukrainian polls suggest that in the east, another option may be the preference of those who refuse to participate in the survey; who record that they won’t answer the questions; or who claim not to know their own opinions. On the newly available evidence, this silent majority supports neither Russian intervention; nor American, Polish and NATO intervention; nor intervention by forces from the Kiev government or the western Ukraine. For the time being, though, the polls on public release haven’t asked directly what kind of police force to separate locals from outsiders would be acceptable to those who should have to live with it.

A nationwide poll undertaken by the independent Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) conducted its interviews by fixed line and mobile telephone with a random sample of 1,020, selected in all regions of Ukraine, including Crimea. The survey was undertaken between March 7 and 9 — before the Crimean secession referendum on March 16. The results were released that day, and can be read in Ukrainian and Russian here.

putinThe question asked was ambiguous, the responses were not. “The Federation Council of Russia has authorized the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to send the Russian armies on to the territory of Ukraine. What do you think of this decision?” In response, the aggregate was 83.3% against; 3.8% disapproving; 4.8% in favour; 5.6% neither for nor against; and 2.6% unwilling to answer.

The numbers are not surprising; their regional distribution is. The table shows that while there are larger proportions in the eastern and southern regions who are non-committal or in favour of Russian intervention, at least two-thirds of those polled from those regions are strongly opposed. Or at least this was their view six weeks ago.

Between April 3 and 12, the democracy financing branch of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) paid for a Ukrainian opinion survey. The questionnaire was formulated by the Gallup Organization. The International Republican Institute (IRI) of Washington, DC, an association of the Republican Party also funded by USAID and the State Department, sponsored the polling and published the results on April 24. The full report can be read here.

According to the report, the poll sampling was 1,200 and the procedure was “face-to-face interviews at respondents’ home.” The response rate recorded was 65%. That means that 35% of front doors were slammed shut in the face of the pollsters. Whether that happened before or after the pollsters disclosed they were paid by the US Government is not known. No regional breakdown is reported for the non-responders.

When regional distributions are reported for opinions towards Russian military intervention, constitutional change, intention to vote in the May 25 presidential election, or preference for candidates, those refusing to express a view from the eastern and southern regions ranged between 9% to 12%, two to four times more than those from western Ukraine. The proportion who said they wouldn’t vote in the proposed election, or refused to say, was 39%. In short, the US poll managed not to record the resistance to participating in the election of a near-majority of Ukrainians in the east and south.

The question on Russian intervention in the Ukrainian survey was worded differently by the American poll. The latter asked: “Do you support the decision of the Russian Federation to send its army into Ukraine under the pretext of protecting Russian-speaking citizens?”

Overall, the answer of the responders was a resounding no:


When the responders are grouped by the language they speak at home, it’s less than clear what the Russian-speakers really think.

If the majority of the 35% who refused to speak to the pollsters at all were Russian-speakers, and if the 13% who went on record as refusing to answer can be counted as being afraid to speak their minds, then on top of the 19% who said they were in favour of Russian intervention, it is likely a majority of the Russian-speaking Ukrainians do in fact support a “pretext” of Russian intervention.

Source: http://www.iri.org/

Put the matter the other way round, there is a clear majority of eastern and southern Ukrainians who do not want Russian military intervention to occur. The level of their support for intervention depends on what follows — on the precondition, not on the pretext. If forces from Pravy Sektor, now headquartered in Dniepropetrovsk under acting governor Igor Kolomoisky, and units of Ukrainian troops under the transition government in Kiev, wage running street and checkpoint battles with local protest groups and militiamen, then Russian troops may be the preferred law and order option.

This becomes clearer when the USAID poll reported how Ukrainians answered the question of what external force they prefer to guarantee their security:

The majorities against US and European military intervention on any “pretext” are obvious. The chart from the report has been published by Forbes on April 24. But this question and several related ones are reported from an earlier USAID poll carried out between March 14 to 26. If the same questions were repeated and the answers recorded in the April 3-12 poll, they are missing from the version of the April report on the IRI website. The March poll runs to 134 pages, and can be read here. IRI’s April report is 58 pages long: more than half of the analytical charts of the earlier report are missing.

Several other responses from the eastern and southern Ukraine are reported in March, but omitted in April.

This one shows that if you count those not answering, there is a clear majority of ethnic Russians in favour of Russian intervention.

The next chart reveals that there is a majority in the east of the country which is opposed to joining the European Union:

This question and answer, published in March but not in April, confirm the economic attachment of the easterners to the Eurasian Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus:

mendelsonAccording to recent Congressional testimony by Sara Mendelson, the USAID official in charge of democracy projection in Ukraine, “the political trajectory of a country is ultimately a U.S. national security issue, and as such, we are intimately involved in advancing U.S. national security interests. Several of the countries we will discuss today are of high national security interest to the United States, and they are also in the category of requiring very long-term democracy efforts. Accordingly, the investments we make in these closed societies will pay dividends in the future. We know this to be true in many countries where we have worked, where institutions and processes we supported became leading elements ushering in more democratic and accountable governments.”

Mendelson went into closed session to talk about her operations in Ukraine. Closing the Congressional Committee doors to talk about Ukrainian democracy was necessary, she explained, “due to the sensitive nature of our work in these repressive countries and the importance we place on the physical security and protection of our partners.”

The Ukrainian polling her agency paid for – according to Mendelson’s unclassified statement to the House Sub-Committee on Foreign Operations – is one of several “creative monitoring and evaluation approaches, including phone and third-party surveys, and we use cutting-edge data analytic tools to track programs with a virtual component.” The conclusion of this week’s Ukrainian report is that “Confidence in the Government Holds”.

The regional breakdown of the cutting-edge data shows this is not the case in the east and south:

This chart appeared in the March 26 report. It has been removed from the April 12 version.

Following the KIIS poll of March 9 and the USAID poll of April 12, the situation has deteriorated in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, as civilian protests have proliferated and quasi-military violence has spread. In response, Putin said in Moscow on April 17: “People in the eastern regions are talking about federalisation, and Kiev has at long last started talking about de-centralisation. But what do they mean? To be able to understand what they mean, they should sit down at the negotiating table and search for an acceptable solution. Order in the country can only be restored through dialogue and democratic procedures, rather than with the use of armed force, tanks and aircraft.”

The USAID poll of March 26 provided part of the answer to Putin’s question. There is demonstrable support in the south for federalisation without Crimea, and a near-majority in favour in the east:

Putin also said: “As for what is happening in southeastern Ukraine, we don’t know for sure. But we believe that we ought to do everything we can to help these people defend their rights and determine their fate on their own. This is what we will fight for. Let me remind you that the Federation Council of Russia gave the President the right to use the Armed Forces in Ukraine. I very much hope that I will not have to exercise this right and that, through political and diplomatic means, we will be able to resolve all the pressing, if not to say burning, issues in Ukraine.”

Again, the US Government’s polling in late March demonstrated that the majority of Ukrainians in the east and south does not believe presidential and parliamentary elections are the appropriate way to represent their current priorities.

Over the following fortnight, the available evidence suggests that negative sentiment towards the proposed elections has grown in the east. There is no record of this in the latest version of the US poll results.

KIIS and the Centre for Social and Marketing Research (SOCIS), also based in Kiev, have this week released the results of their nationwide survey of opinion between April 9 and 16. The sample was 6,200, a sixfold increase over the USAID effort. Counting the last three rows of the table (below), it is evident the majority of easterners and southerners is opposed to the presidential election on May 25.

Source: http://socis.kiev.ua/

This poll also confirms growing resistance in the east and south to a form of unitary government for the Ukraine, if Kiev, the western regions and USAID’s democracy department have their way in the drafting of a new constitution.

Professor Vladimir Paniotto, head of KIIS, has provided data tables from a special KIIS survey of opinion he directed this month in eight regions of southeastern Ukraine. Sampling was 3,232 over the interval April 8-16. Interviews were done by telephone in cities; by face-to-face interviews in smaller settlements. The results have been published in Ukrainian and Russian on April 18.

pinchukA detailed Ukrainian interpretation of the KIIS survey can be read here. This reports that funds for the polling came from Victor Pinchuk (right). For his involvement in the most recent events in the areas covered by the KIIS survey, read this.

The KIIS polling reveals that in these areas of the country there is next to no support for the return of ousted President Victor Yanukovich; he and his Party of Regions are largely blamed for the events in Kiev leading up to his ouster.

At the same time, there is little support in these regions for armed occupation of administrative buildings as a form of protest against the government which replaced Yanukovich. On the other hand, resistance to Pravy Sektor and the security threats it poses is strongly supported.

The consequence, according to the answers to the following question, is that easterners are directly concerned with the risk of civil war:

The immediate priorities are also clear, though there are small but significant differences between the oblasts. Overall, the picture is uniform. Easterners and southerners are most concerned by the breakdown of law and order; the collapse of the economy; the risk of unemployment; and non-payment of wages and pensions. Ten percent are fearful of the impact of NATO moves in the country; seventeen percent have a similar fear of Russian military intervention; twenty percent are fearful of the impact of loss of economic ties with Russia.

As for how to interpret current events in their own towns and region, and what should happen next, the KIIS survey reveals more complexity in the judgements of the locals than has been attributed to them by the US, UK, and French media:

Asked for their view of the future role for Rinat Akhmetov and Sergei Taruta in Donetsk, Igor Kolomoisky and Victor Pinchuk in Dniepropetrovsk, and other oligarchs dominating the economy of their region, there are now strong majorities opposed to their retaining the assets which the oligarchs have accumulated through political influence and corruption.

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