WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ukraine's staunchest support during its recent crisis has come from countries in NATO, which, paradoxically, Ukrainians as recently as last summer were still more likely to consider a threat (29%) to their country than as protection (17%). But Ukrainians were most likely to view it as neither (44%).
Although Ukraine pursued NATO membership under pro-Western President Viktor Yuschenko, most Ukrainians never warmed to the idea. More Ukrainians saw NATO as a threat than as offering protection during the pursuit and have continued to feel this way even after the country ended its membership bid in 2010 under President Viktor Yanukovich. Dropping the bid may have neutralized the threat for many Ukrainians, with at least four in 10 or more likely to see NATO as neither protection nor a threat since that time.
Like residents in other former Soviet countries, Ukrainians' views of NATO in the past largely have been defined by their country's relations and cultural ties to Russia, which opposes NATO expansion. Within Ukraine, residents' views of NATO have depended on their proximity to Russia and Europe. Nearly half of Ukrainians (46%) in the East, which includes the Crimea region that is scheduled to vote this weekend on whether to join Russia, viewed NATO as a threat last year. Only 8% in the West and 18% in Central Ukraine saw NATO as a threat.
Not surprisingly, Ukrainians' approval ratings of the leadership of the European Union and Russia have typically followed these same regional divisions, with the West and Central areas aligning more with the EU and the East aligning with Russia. Months before Yanukovich backed away from a trade deal with the EU last year and set the current crisis in motion, majorities in the West and Central areas of Ukraine approved of EU leadership. In the East, 19% approved of EU leadership.
While Ukrainians' attitudes may have changed given Russia's recent actions in Crimea, approval of Russia at the time of the 2013 Gallup survey was highest in the East (60%), which is home to many ethnic Russians. Approval of Russia's leadership was much lower in the Central region (42%) and particularly low in the West (25%).
The divisions evident in Ukrainians' attitudes toward NATO and the leadership of the EU and Russia show that Ukrainians lack unity ahead of the referendum vote this weekend in Crimea as well as the coming election in May. Ukraine's new leadership will not only be tasked with restoring Ukrainians' confidence in their leadership, but also with unifying an obviously divided country. And after all that has happened, the country's leadership will need to redefine its relationship with the West and Russia and find a way to work with both.
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Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in 2008-2013 in Ukraine. The most recent results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, conducted in June 27-July 31, 2013, in Ukraine. Results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3.7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.