Geopolitical Orientation of Ukraine’s Population: Before and After the Conflict with Russia

The article is intended for the annual academic edition "Ukrainian Society. Monitoring Social Changes" of the Institute of Sociology of the NAS of Ukraine.

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The main objective of the article is the unambiguous distribution of respondents into groups according to their geopolitical orientation – European (Western) or Russian-Belarusian (Eastern) for the period of 2012–2014.
Units of analysis and variables. Respondents from the Autonomous Republic of Crimea are excluded from the data for 2012 and 2013 to ensure the comparability of results with the corresponding data for 2014. In order to achieve the objective of the article three variables of monitoring were used: a) the attitude of the respondents to the alliance with Russia and Belarus; b) the attitude of the respondents to joining the European Union; c) the attitude of the respondents to joining the NATO.
Main results. An important feature of Ukrainians’ attitude to further development is their ambiguity and ambivalence. A part of respondents (this share was particularly large in 2012) is equally positive about the alliance with Russia and Belarus as well as about joining the EU. In addition, there is a considerable part of those uncertain. It is this group of people (ambivalent and uncertain) that is the most interesting in terms of which category they should be finally allocated to – those of eastern orientation, those of western or those of their own.
First, let us consider the attitude of the population of Ukraine towards different prospects of integration simultaneously.
In accordance with this we can distinguish six groups:
1) certain (view one prospect positively and another – negatively);
2) ambivalent (view both prospects positively);
3) completely uncertain (those who find it difficult to formulate an opinion in both cases);
4) partially certain with a plus sign (in one case, the assessment is positive, in another is not formed);
5) partially certain with a minus sign (in one case, the assessment is negative, in another is not formed);
6) negativists (both cases have negative evaluation).
In 2012 the percentage of those solely oriented towards the east was 16.32% (in 2013 – 20.79%, in 2014 – 16.31%), and those solely oriented towards the west – 18.39% (in 2013 – 22.61%, in 2014 – 42.43%). The number of those ambivalent in 2012 was comparable to the groups of certain respondents, namely, 20.04% (in 2013 their number dropped to 11.04%, and in 2014 – to the record low of 2.52%). The number of those uncertain was 9.19% in 2012 (in 2013 – 11.04%, in 2014 – 12.16%). Thus, in 2012 the total number of those ambivalent and uncertain was 29.23% (which was much higher than any of the unambiguously identified groups), but in 2013 their number dropped to 22.08% (this is on the same level with both the number of those oriented towards the east and the number of those oriented towards the west), and in 2014 – dropped even lower to 14.68%.
The number of partially certain respondents with a plus sign was 18.39% in 2012 (in 2013 – 15.44% , in 2014 – 5.77%) for the eastern prospect, and 7.96% (in 2013 – 9.04%, in 2014 – 5.94%) for the western.
If we assume that, if it were necessary to clearly express their position (e.g., in a referendum), the representatives of these groups would opt (or would have opted in 2012 and 2013) for the prospect they estimate as positive, the percentage of supporters of the eastern integration would reach 34.71% for 2012, 36.23% for 2013, and 22.08% for 2014. As for the western orientation, this number would reach 26.35% for 2012, 31.65% for 2013, and 48.37% for 2014. Partially certain respondents with a minus sign can be distributed in the same way. Then supporters of the alliance with Russia and Belarus would gain 37.07% for 2012, 39.11% for 2013, and 25.22% for 2014. For the supporters of the EU this value would be 30.65% for 2012, 35.76% for 2013, and 55.04% for 2014.
The number of negativists was circa 3% in 2012 and 2013, and increased to just over 5% in 2014, which is too small a value to have an impact on the situation.
Hence, the orientation balance in 2012 can be named “13/10/10”: for 13 people with the eastern orientation there were about 10 people with the western orientation and 10 people whose orientation was not certain or who were ambivalent. In 2013, this ratio was “18/16/10”, and in 2014 – “15/37/10”. Thus, the final position of those ambivalent and uncertain could have been a significant factor in 2012 and 2013, but ceased to be such after the conflict with Russia.
However, I will try to further allocate the group of uncertain and ambivalent respondents on the basis of their attitude towards Ukraine joining the NATO, which is also, in my opinion, an indicator of geopolitical choice.
If respondents view such prospect positively, they will be allocated to the European integration group. If they view it negatively – to the group of integration with Russia and Belarus. If they have difficulty with forming their opinion even now, they will be left in the ambivalent-uncertain category.
The results of the analysis show that in 2012 12.96% of the ambivalent-uncertain group (in 2013 – 7.23%, in 2014 – 3.76%) shift to the group with eastern orientation, 4.00% (in 2013 – 2.11%, in 2014 – 1.57%) – to the group with western orientation. The remaining 12.26% in 2012 (in 2013 – 12.69%, in 2014 – 9.37%) do not change the group.
As a result, the following situation is observed over the years (Table. 1). In addition, to determine the heterogeneity of society for this parameter the index of qualitative variation (IQV) is calculated.
Table 2
The Dynamics of Geopolitical Orientation of the Population of Ukraine by Region
Geopolitical Orientation Year
2012 2013 2014
Russia and Belorus 50,03 46,36 28,98
Europe 34,65 37,90 56,61
Ambivalent-uncertain 12,26 12,69 9,36
Negativists 3,06 3,06 5,04
IQV 0,82 0,83 0,78
What happened seemed unlikely to me in late 2013 – early 2014 (even during the “Euromaidan”) – the number of supporters of European integration substantially exceeded the number of supporters of the alliance with Russia and Belarus. In fact, the leap in the geopolitical preferences was almost 20%. On the other hand, it should be also noted that the number of respondents who support the eastern vector of development is still large enough (especially in the context of the acute confrontation with the Russian Federation). The group of ambivalent-, uncertain respondents demonstrates relatively high stability. The same can be said about the group of negativists. As for the heterogeneity of society in general, it decreased slightly.
Regional peculiarities. The distribution of groups with different geopolitical orientation in various regions of Ukraine is of additional interest. For my analysis I used the division of Ukraine into three big regions – Western, Central and South-Eastern. I distinguished them on the basis of the 2013 data using the hierarchical cluster analysis (using variables for electoral preferences, attitude to Ukrainian citizenship, geopolitical orientation, and attitude to the status of the Russian language).
The Western region includes Volyn, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Ternopil, Rivne and Transcarpathian regions. The Central region includes Khmelnytsky, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia, Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Poltava, Kirovohrad and Dnipropetrovsk regions. The South-Eastern region includes Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhya, Mykolayiv, Odessa, and Kherson regions.
The sizes of the groups with different geopolitical views by region are shown below (Table. 2).
Table 2
The Dynamics of Geopolitical Orientation of the Population of Ukraine by Region
Geopolitical Orientation Region / Year
West Centre South-East
2012 2013 2014 2012 2013 2014 2012 2013 2014
Russia and Belorus 12,76 13,85 5,24 49,22 42,37 16,96 72,85 69,38 56,08
Europe 69,64 66,67 84,29 31,93 40,52 68,26 16,59 18,40 27,45
Ambivalent-uncertain 14,29 16,41 7,14 15,11 13,25 10,43 8,30 9,95 9,64
Negativists 3,32 3,08 3,33 3,74 3,38 4,35 2,26 2,26 6,82
IQV 0,64 0,68 0,37 0,84 0,85 0,66 0,58 0,63 0,79
As can be seen, in 2014 significant changes happened in the attitudes in all three regions. However, the attitudes of the population in the South-Eastern region of Ukraine demonstrate the greatest inertia. On the other hand, if in 2012 and 2013 the South-Eastern region was the most homogeneous in terms of geopolitical preferences (this can be seen in the IQV), in 2014 this region became the most heterogeneous.
Brief conclusions. It is easy to see that the main tendency in the dynamics of geopolitical preferences lies in the weakening of the orientation “towards the east” and strengthening of the orientation “towards the west”. In 2013, this was due to the deliberate policy of our state, first promoting the idea of European integration but then refusing to enter the association with the European Union. In 2014, the main factor was the multifaceted conflict with the Russian Federation.
It should also be noted that, regarding geopolitical values, the Western and Central regions became much closer, but the South-Eastern region is significantly different from the rest of Ukraine in this context.
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