Russian Public Opinion Research Center and Center for Current Policy (CCP) present a joint study following the Normandy Four Summit held in France on December 9.
On December 9, the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine met in Paris under Normandy-four format for the first time in more than three years. This was the first-ever summit for the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. A brief meeting between the Russian and the Ukrainian leaders was also held in the framework of the summit.
1. Russians are skeptical about the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. Most of respondents know nothing about his activity and do not have any opinions. Those with positive opinions are a minority.
2. Russians do not believe in the normalization of the Russian-Ukrainian relations and settlement of the Donbass conflict during the Zelensky presidency. This can be explained by the fact that in respondent perceptions Zelensky has not moved from words to deeds. The prisoner exchange and the return of ships to Ukraine were more important to Ukraine than Russia. Russians think that the new Ukrainian leadership has set a course toward the revision of the Minsk agreement which will not be supported by Russia; subsequently, the bilateral relations will stay unchanged.
3. Pessimism in the perceptions of the future bilateral relations has been growing lately. The number of those who believe that friendly, good-neighborly relations can be restored is decreasing.
4. Russians show a medium degree of awareness about the Normandy Four meeting in Paris. This might be due to low expectations from the summit results. At the same time, an overwhelming majority of respondents still consider it important to settle the conflict in Donbass.
5. The attitudes of Russians towards Ukraine are getting more pragmatic. Given the current levels of the bilateral relations, their dynamics and the intensity of confrontation between the two countries, Russians see no preconditions for a breakthrough and do not tie high expectations to Ukraine and Russian-Ukrainian relations. Ukraine is not seen as an enemy, but it is also not seen as a friend. Most of respondents believe that the Russian-Ukrainian relations will sooner or later get back to normal but they will never have a fraternal or an allied character.
Hopes for changes in the Russian-Ukrainian relations
Zelensky is said to belong to a new generation of politicians who “issued a challenge to the previous generation of politicians” almost all over the post-Soviet space. With his coming into office, certain groups of respondents were building hopes for peace in Donbass and normalization in the Russian-Ukrainian relations.
In October, the Levada Center and the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) published the results of a joint study on the attitudes of Russians and Ukrainians towards each other. Sociologists conclude that Zelensky’s election and his first steps in relations with Russia reversed the dominance of “bad” attitudes of Russians towards Ukraine which had been stable since Crimea’s incorporation into Russia.
The study shows that the share of Russians who perceive Ukraine positively has increased one and a half times from February to September 2019: 56% of respondents report positive views. This is the highest value since April 2014. More than half of respondents would like Russia and Ukraine to be independent and friendly states, with open borders and visa-free entry (54%). Another one-third of Russians support closed borders and visa regime with Ukraine (32%); 19% are in favor of unification of countries into one state (a record-breaking value since March 2014 (28%)).
Earlier, in July 2019, after Zelensky’s election but before the Verkhovna Rada election, VCIOM conducted two surveys on the Russian-Ukrainian relations.
According to the findings of the surveys, an overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) thought that it was important to have friendly relations with Ukraine; 78% agreed that it was important for Russia and Ukraine to improve the bilateral relations. At the same time, 61% said the bilateral relations had not changed over a year; every fourth respondent said that the situation was getting tenser and deteriorating (25%).
Speaking about the prospects of the bilateral relations, 42% of Russians considered that the Russian-Ukrainian relations would become normal but will never be fraternal or allied. Only every fourth Russian (24%) believed that friendly and good-neighborly relations could be restored; 18% expected the relations to have a fraternal or an allied character. Six percent said the bilateral relations would keep deteriorating.
Thirty percent of respondents viewed Ukraine as a “fraternal country”; 28% perceived it “just as a neighbor”. Only 12% of Russians considered Ukraine to be a source of threat. Generally, the majority of Russians (68%) said they had positive perceptions of Ukraine. Twenty-one percent of respondents said they had negative perceptions.
A failed rupture
The survey conducted in December 2019 shows high levels of skepticism among Russians about the new Ukrainian leader.
Only 9% of Russians said they perceived Zelensky in a positive way. By and large, the Russian people know nothing about his activity (35%) or show indifference towards his personality (29%). Twenty-one percent of respondents have unfavorable perceptions of the Ukrainian leader.
Positive attitudes towards Zelensky are mainly expressed by young Russians aged 18-24 (19%). However, the largest percentage of those who are indifferent is also respondents from this age group (40%). On the contrary, the older generation tends to have more negative perceptions (58% of persons aged 45 and older have negative views).
Those who perceive Zelensky more favorably than others are inhabitants of Moscow and St Petersburg (12%, for each).
The work of Zelensky as president has not led to any changes in the attitudes of Russians towards Ukraine.
The balance between positive and negative changes in the perceptions of Ukraine has been at zero point since Zelensky started his activity as president. An overwhelming majority of Russians (74%) have not changed their attitudes towards Ukraine.
The majority of Russians consider that Zelensky has not had any impact on the relations between Russia and Ukraine.
Most of respondents believe that the relations between Russia and Ukraine have not changed since Zelensky took office (67%). Sixteen percent of respondents show optimism saying that the bilateral relations are likely to have improved. Nine percent of Russians are pessimistic. At the same time, those who are more likely to see positive changes are men (22%) and young people (27%).
At the moment, more than half of respondents (53%) regard the Russian-Ukrainian relations as “bad”. Given a fall in Zelensky’s approval ratings in Ukraine, the attitudes to Russians towards the Ukrainian leader will also be deteriorating in the future.
As to the future of the Russian-Ukrainian relations, negative views prevail.
A relative majority of Russians (43%) still believe that the relations will return to normal but will never be fraternal as they used to be. Nineteen percent of respondents say that good-neighborly relations will be restored (a 5-point decrease compared to July). The number of those Russians who believe in fraternal and allied relations between the two countries has decreased (18% in July vs 14% in December). At the same time, the share of those who expect deterioration in relations has almost doubled (from 6% to 11%).
Russians still consider it important to settle the Donbass conflict but at the moment they see no changes in the conflict zone.
Most of Russians think there are no changes in the situation in Donbass: the situation is getting neither better, nor worse (50%). A further 15% consider that the situation is steadily returning to normal; 13% say the situation is getting tenser and considerably deteriorating. In addition, most of respondents are confident that it is very (45%) or quite (40%) likely to be important for Russia to peacefully settle the conflict in Donbass.
On the whole, Russians were interested in the meeting of the Normandy Four.
Twenty-three percent of respondents are well aware of the Normandy Four meeting; 47% heard something about it but do not know any details; only 30% know nothing about the meeting. Those who were least interested in the summit are young Russians: 58% of those aged 18-24 know nothing about the meeting. A majority (50%) are confident that the meeting will influence the situation in Donbass. Thirty-five percent of respondents think that the effects will likely be positive.
Russian VCIOM-Sputnik survey was conducted on December 12, 2019. Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,600 Russians aged 18 and older. A stratified dual-frame random sample based on a complete list of Russian landline and mobile phone numbers is used. The data were weighted according to selection probability and social and demographic characteristics. The margin of error at a 95% confidence level does not exceed 2.5%. In addition to sampling error, minor changes in question wording and different circumstances arising during the fieldwork can introduce bias into the survey.
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