Prospects for Ukraine

Stable or not, the ceasefire "Minsk II" has cleared the air around the conflict in Ukraine. Which is wrong, since the political problems in the region cannot be solved by stable ceasefire alone: the humanitarian crisis caused by the catastrophic economic situation can be defused only provided the political climate becomes more or less stable.

The extreme fall in the exchange rate of the Ukrainian currency (hryvnia) together with the increase in prices resulting from it are contributing to the growing tension among Ukrainians. In particular, it concerns people living in the areas which have been fought for.

Going by the statements of leading politicians the solution doesn't seem to come soon. However, public opinion polls give quite a different idea. In many respects, views in all the regions taken individually differ less than expected.

For example, more than 70% of the entire Ukrainian population supported the first Minsk agreement. Nevertheless, the central question focuses on a potentially permanent political solution: what the relationship with the EU/Russia will look like and whether the territorial integrity can be kept.

Spring 2015: opinion poll shows potential of compromise in population
(Source: Kiev International Institute of Sociology)

In Eastern Ukraine answers to the question "what do you prefer the future of Ukraine to look like?" were as follows: 35% of the respondents were for a centralist policy and 33% - for an autonomous policy in the conflict region Donbass, while only 22% - for the option of separatism. Interestingly, even in the areas controlled by separatists, the majority of 51% plumped for the Donbass remaining part of Ukraine; however, 36% of those wanted more autonomy and local rights.

In Southern Ukraine, in which Russian-speaking population prevails, only 3% can reconcile themselves to the idea of "splitting off" - a clear signal against the expansion plans of some separatist "commanders" that make a connection between language and political preference in an unacceptable way.

The reaction of the remaining Ukrainian population to more autonomy in the Donbass is also constructive. Generally, 57% of the population see Ukraine within the current borders, with increased autonomy in the Donbass, as an acceptable solution, while only 32% explicitly oppose this option. In Eastern Ukraine this variant is supported even by more than 70% (in the Donbass - by 78%).

Besides, no region opposed close relations between Ukraine and the EU. The majority of the Ukrainian population took a stand in favour of close ties with the European Union (47%). 34% of the respondents would like Ukraine to have good relations both with the EU and Russia. And only 13% prefer having good relations exclusively with Russia.

In Eastern Ukraine the majority of 55% would like to have equally close relations with Russia and the European Union. This can be explained by cultural, familial as well as economic reasons which should not be forgotten. This small window of local compromise in Ukraine definitely cannot be hidden behind diverse opinions in each particular region.

Levada Study: Most of Russians against any further territorial expansion

According to a survey of the Russian Levada Center the population does not show much interest in further "territory absorption". The majority of 57% condemn the potential annexation of former soviet republics (exception - the Crimea): just 34% consider such actions lawful - quite the opposite tendency in comparison with the identical questioning in the spring of 2014.

Special status for the Donbass and the myth of the Russian language

Although the ceasefire evidences continuing violation, it can encourage "pouring cold water" on the parties. Official and demonstrative appreciation of the Russian language could be a tactical trump card for Kyiv. In everyday life it is dominant not only in Southern and Eastern Ukraine – in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv it is also primarily spoken in everyday life.

The myth that Ukrainians speaking Russian or having Russian background are automatically opposed to Ukraine completely conflicts with reality.

However, such measures should not be in conflict with the protection of the Ukrainian language. In Eastern Ukraine many people would like to have more options with Ukrainian content too, even if they use Russian as an everyday language.

An "all-inclusive" package granting a special status to the Donbass (tax law, language, etc.) has already been considered; whereas such concepts as "autonomy" and "federalization" were deliberately omitted.  From the perspective of the Ukrainian government these concepts are out of the question in the context of the recent events. Nevertheless, this package definitely contains a possibility for creating the basis for negotiations on improving the situation in the Donbass.

In this stale situation the question, whether the policy makers will finally manifest their wish to compromise, will mainly depend on whether a potential solution can be implemented without losing one's own face.


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