The top polling agencies inside Russia and Ukraine got together to look at how people in each country regard their neighbor. Ukrainian attitudes towards Russians have improved since last year even as a Moscow-backed separatist conflict rages in the country’s east, a survey conducted jointly by Russia’s independent Levada Center and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) reveals.
The poll found that 48% of Ukrainians now view Russia in a positive light, up from 37% last year. By contrast, 32% of Ukrainians view Russians negatively, down from 46% in 2017. And there has been no such uptick in Russia.
Ukrainian opinions, unsurprisingly, break down according to region, with 31% holding positive attitudes in the west, 44% in the center, 62% in the south and 70% in the east, where more ethnic Russians reside.
Russians’ positive attitudes towards Ukrainians, by contrast, remain unchanged year-on-year at 33%, while 55% now view Ukrainians negatively.
Moreover, when asked about the most defining characteristics of their neighbors, the most popular reply from Ukrainians regarding Russians was being “open” and “simple” (“normal”) -- at 22%. Another 21% said hospitality was the dominant trait. By contrast, a plurality of Russians (30%) said the primary trait of Ukrainians was that they were” hypocritical” and “cunning,” although 26% called them “hospitable.”
All in all, Russians named five positive and five negative traits about Ukrainians, while Ukrainians found six positive traits and four negative ones about Russians.
KIIS conducted the Ukrainian portion of the poll from September 8th to the 23rd among 2,206 respondents in 109 settlements in every oblast nationwide, excluding the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
The Levada Center conducted its survey among 1,600 Russians during the period of September 20th to 26th.
Regarding the surveys, RT reported on Wednesday, October 10, that “the proportion of people who want friendship between Russia and Ukraine [had] remained the same over the past 10 years,” adding that this sentiment persisted despite “a campaign of anti-Russian propaganda in Ukraine and numerous infringements of Russian speakers’ rights which have been taking place since the 2014 replacement of the lawfully-elected Ukrainian government with a pro-Western regime in the course of violent protests known as ‘Maidan’.”
While many reports on infringements of Russian speakers’ rights have been misleading and allegations of a Western-backed coup debunked, RT’s claim of an “anti-Russian propaganda campaign” in Ukraine is an interesting one.
And so that leads to the question: If Ukraine is running a domestic anti-Russian propaganda campaign, why do Russians generally have more negative attitudes towards Ukrainians than vice-versa?
Despite worsening relations which culminated in Kyiv terminating the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership with Russia last month, Alexei Levinson, the head of socio-cultural research department at the Levada Center, told Polygraph.info that “asymmetry in attitudes” between Russians and Ukrainians is nothing new.
“We traced it even more than 10 years ago and I can guess that it is a part of, let’s say, a post-imperial syndrome, where Russians as a nation feel that they are kind of betrayed by all the nations that used to belong to the Soviet Union but then left after [its] collapse,” he said. “So [Russians] are rather negative about almost all the former Soviet republics, except for Kazakhstan and Belarus.”
And despite RT’s reports of an anti-Russian propaganda campaign in Ukraine, Levinson said it was, in fact, “the conflict with Ukraine” and “the massive anti-Ukraine propaganda in recent times” that has “affected the mass consciousness in Russia”.
Regarding why Russian propaganda that centered on Ukrainian government policy would spoil attitudes towards the Ukrainian people themselves, Levinson attributed this to a “shadow effect.”
“Everything related to Ukraine was, I would say, spoiled or colored with some negative tint by this propaganda, not differentiating the people from the country and the country from the state and the politics from humans and so on,” he said. “But the general rule is that Russians usually have much better attitudes towards the people than the country or the state.”
As to why Ukrainians’ would hold relatively warmer views toward Russia, despite a simmering Russian-instigated war and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Ukrainian pollster has been tracking that.
Vladimir Paniotto, director general of KIIS, said the influence of Russian media in terms of negative information about Ukraine had been provided “consistently” and “purposefully,” making public opinion in Russia “more manageable.”
As for RT’s claim that the proportion of people wanting friendship has remained the same over the past decade, Paniotto, described RT’s analysis as a “strange mixture of real data with some fantasy,” adding he “couldn’t understood” where they had taken their figures from.
“After [Russia’s annexation of] Crimea we had a dramatic drop of positive attitudes to Russia, from 85% in 2013 to 30% (in May 2015). In 2008, only 10% of Ukrainians wanted closed borders with Russia. In December 2014 [that figure was] 50% and now [it’s] about 40% (38%),” Paniotto said in a written comment to Polygraph.info.
But he said “the end of active hostilities” between Ukraine and Russia had brought about a gradual improvement in Ukrainian opinion towards Russians.
“This is also influenced by some pro-Russian Ukrainian channels and deputies,” he said. “The attitude of Russians is stable, as Russia is making extraordinary efforts in anti-Ukrainian propaganda during many years and continue to do it. There are no opposition TV channels in Russia, all information is controlled by a single center, therefore it is effective. And even with this, a third of the population treats Ukraine well.”
So while RT reports the desire for friendship has remained steady despite Ukrainian propaganda, the numbers clearly show that is the Russian side that has taken the biggest hit in the disinformation war.