As Americans turn their attention to the first public hearings in the House impeachment investigation, there is another country that has been affected by the scandal that's fueling the investigation: Ukraine. What do the Ukrainian people think of the impeachment controversy?
The congressional investigation centers on Trump's attempts to pressure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky into opening a corruption investigation into presidential candidate Joe Biden, Business Insider reports.
Trump allegedly threatened to withhold US$400 million in US foreign military aid aimed at countering Russian aggression. The ongoing war in the Donbas region of Ukraine has claimed more than 13,000 lives to date.
What decision do Ukrainians think their president should have made when faced with Trump's apparent "quid pro quo?" Do they believe the Trump administration supports Ukraine? As part of our ongoing research on Eurasian security and governance at the Ohio State University Mershon Center for International Security Studies, we posed these questions to 2,000 Ukrainians. The results show how Trump's purported attempt to co-opt Ukraine's precarious position with Russia worsens divides inside Ukraine and weakens U.S. influence.
Between October 4 and 16, face-to-face interviews were conducted with a nationally representative sample of Ukrainians over the age of 18 in the government controlled areas of Ukraine. People were asked what their president should do if pressured by the U.S. president to open an investigation into his political opponent in return for needed U.S. aid — similar to what Trump is accused of doing. There is no consensus on this question among Ukrainians. Nearly one-third believe their president should stall an investigation until after the election is over if faced with this scenario. At the same time, 1 in 5 believe their president should take the deal of an investigation for aid. Only a small percentage, 12%, believe their president should reject such a quid pro quo and forego the aid. The remainder did not know what the president of Ukraine should do. Support for this sort of deal was highest in western Ukraine, where 35% thought the Ukrainian president should agree to open an investigation in return for foreign aid. In contrast, in southern and eastern Ukraine, people felt differently about trading political aid for financial assistance.
Survey respondents in southern Ukraine were the least supportive of agreeing to Trump's alleged quid pro quo. Support for rejecting it altogether was highest in eastern Ukraine.
Trump himself is also a now a divisive figure in Ukraine. When asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable toward him, 37% of Ukrainians have an unfavorable opinion, 44% have a neutral opinion and 21% have a favorable opinion. By comparison, 66% of Ukrainians report a favorable opinion of President Zelensky. This suggests that Trump's alleged quid pro quo hampers the U.S. government's ability to exert its influence in Ukraine. It further divides Ukraine across regional and ethnic lines and raises doubts among a significant portion of Ukrainians about how much the U.S. will support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
Narratives depicting the Ukrainian government as a puppet of the United States and its allies are commonly promoted by Russian propaganda outlets throughout Ukraine. For example, 30% of Ukrainians believe the U.S. and NATO orchestrated the crisis between Ukraine and Russia in order to take control of Ukraine. Thirty-four percent also believe the West does not want the conflict in Donbas to end, in order to keep Ukraine weak. Respondents were also showed a fake news story about the U.S. State Department special representative to Ukraine violating Ukrainian election laws by publicly supporting Zelensky's opponent Petro Poroshenko in the last presidential election. More than a quarter believed it was true.
In this information environment, in which a sizable percentage of Ukrainians already believe their government is a puppet of the U.S., the researchers worry that Trump's alleged attempt to pressure Zelensky could further amplify these widespread false narratives among the people of Ukraine.