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This chart is great news for Ukraine, bad news for Putin

Ok, so these pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk might like the idea of seceding. But they're the minority!
Ok, so these pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk might like the idea of seceding. But they're the minority!
Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Things are going badly in eastern Ukraine. The pro-Russia separatists who'd taken control of government buildings in some eastern cities announced they would go forward with a referendum on independence on Sunday, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin urging them not to. An enormous Russian invasion force is still massed on the Ukrainian border. The US and Russia are threatening to sanction one another's economies even more than they are already. The Ukrainian military has tried and failed several times to dislodge the separatists in eastern Ukraine, raising fears that the violence could spiral out of control, and/or that Russia could invade and annex the territory as it did in Crimea. There's no indication of a peaceful, diplomatic resolution in sight.

But there is one piece of good news. Great news, actually. Pew released the results of a new survey of Ukrainian views of the crisis, and it turns out that Ukrainians overwhelmingly want to keep their country unified. Despite weeks of agitation by pro-Russia separatists widely thought to be backed by Moscow, and Putin's own rhetoric that sure sounds like he wants to reproduce his Crimea annexation in eastern Ukraine, the actual people in eastern Ukraine don't want it. Unlike Crimeans, they want to stay unified.

Here are the key results, showing how people in different parts of Ukraine feel about keeping their country together. The big take-away is that eastern Ukrainians do not want to break away, as many Crimeans did:


This chart is great news because it cuts against the widespread fears that eastern Ukrainians, like Crimeans, might be just receptive enough to independence from Ukraine and annexation by Russia that Moscow could get away with it. But you can see that their views on Ukrainian unity are totally different: 70 percent of eastern Ukrainians want to keep the country together, compared to just 12 percent of Crimeans. Even a majority of eastern Ukraine's native Russian-speakers, who are often more sympathetic to Russia, want to stick with Ukraine.

There is still some reason to worry in the data. Among those Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians, 27 percent say that some regions should be allowed to secede (the other 15 percent say they don't know). That's a pretty small minority, not enough for a regional uprising or a civil war. But it is enough to continue causing trouble, as the pro-Russia separatists have been.

What's most impressive about this is that Pew's survey finds that Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians just loathe Ukraine's new, post-protests government: 82 percent say the new government is having a "bad influence" on the ongoing events there. But, even despite their deeply negative view of the Ukrainian government, they still don't want to break off from the country.

This suggests that Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians are just not receptive to the idea of secession in the same way that Crimeans were. It also suggests that Putin would have a very tough time ginning up popular support for a Crimea-style annexation; if Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians already hate their government and still don't want to secede, what else can Putin really tell them? And Putin may have overstepped already: the survey finds that only 41 percent of Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainians think that Russia is having "a good influence" on the events in Ukraine. And these are supposed to be the Ukrainians most receptive to Russia's influence!

This survey is not the only one to find that eastern Ukrainians are unreceptive to Russia's efforts. Putin and the pro-Russia separatists appear to have been trying to gin up conflict between the separatists and the Ukrainian government, likely in the hopes of dividing eastern Ukraine from the central government, and maybe even generating enough conflict to justify a Russian military intervention. But, as an April survey of eastern Ukrainians found, people there are extremely uninterested in taking up arms against their government. Here are the results; take a look at the tiny proportion who say they'd be willing to take up arms against "threats to your region from Kiev":


This does not mean that the Ukraine crisis is over; the pro-Russia separatists still control Ukrainian territory, there is still fighting between the separatists and the Ukrainian military, and Russia still has an invasion force parked on the border. But all of this survey data suggests that Ukrainians themselves, even the segments of Ukrainians who are predisposed to be more sympathetic to Russia and skeptical of the Ukrainian government, just do not want a Crimea-style Russian invasion and annexation in their territory. It could happen anyway, but this makes it much, much less likely.