Only 16 percent of Russians want their government to admit the eastern Ukrainian separatist republics into the Russian Federation, according to a new poll released by Russian polling agency VTsOIM Wednesday. The survey found that more than 70 percent of Russians want to continue sending humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine, but remain divided on what should become of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Thirty-one percent of Russians want their government to either remain neutral or not interfere with the Russian-backed separatist regions, 12 percent of people found the question difficult to answer and 26 percent said Russia should recognize the two republics as independent states. Only 3 percent of those surveyed thought the Russian government should allow the Ukrainian government in Kiev to reassert control over the regions, which are within its internationally recognized territory.
Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014. Following this, a conflict pitting Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists began in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine with supposedly independent states proclaimed in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. The conflict has taken the lives of approximately 8,000 people and led to the displacement of 1.4 million, according to the United Nations. Russia continues to deny any direct military involvement in the conflict.
The U.S. and the European Union both applied sanctions against Russian businesses and individuals following the annexation of Crimea. The sanctions, in addition to a decrease in the price of oil, have hit the Russian economy hard, with the ruble losing value.
More than 70 percent of the Russians surveyed favored "freezing" the conflict and having Russia provide significant financial support the two republics. Only 10 percent of those surveyed wanted to fight the war to the bitter end. And the majority of Russians believed that militias of the two republics were made up of local residents and not Russian volunteers.
The survey comes at a moment of high tension between Russia and the West with Russia launching its first airstrikes on Syria Wednesday in a battle against the Islamic State group that has shifted attention away from the conflict in Ukraine.
The survey of 1,600 people was conducted Sept. 5 and 6 in 46 Russian regions and republics.