(CNN) — As the world waits to see if Russia will invade Ukraine, an exclusive new poll of both countries for CNN finds that twice as many Russians believe it would be right for Moscow to use military force to prevent Kyiv from joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as say it would be wrong.
One out of every two Russians (50%) says it would be right, while only a quarter (25%) say it would be wrong. The other quarter (25%) are unsure, according to the survey.
But the poll also found that more Russians think it would be wrong than right to use military force “to reunite Russia and Ukraine” – two countries with a long and complicated history of being intertwined.
It’s a close call, but 43% of Russians said use of military force against Ukraine to join it to Russia would be wrong, while 36% said it would be right. (The rest of the respondents said they didn’t know if it would be right or wrong.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most people in Ukraine disagree with the use of force against them. Seven out of 10 respondents there said it would be wrong for Russia to use military force to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO (70%) or to reunite the two countries (73%).
One in two Russians feels the use of force is justiﬁed to keep Ukraine from joining NATOWe asked: Would it be right for Russia to use military force …
… to prevent Ukraine from joining NATORussian respondents
Yes Don’t know No
Yes Don’t know No
… to “reunite Russia and Ukraine”Russian respondents
… if Russia feels threatened by foreign activity in former Soviet countriesRussian respondents
And most Ukrainians reject Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assertion in a speech on Monday that their country has no historical basis and is essentially a creation of the Soviet Union.
Across the country and across all ages, a majority of Ukrainians say they are not “one people” with Russians and that the two countries should not be one.
The survey, of more than 1,000 people in each country, was carried out online from February 7 to 15, before Putin’s speech Monday and Moscow’s recognition of two breakaway separatist republics in Ukraine.
Many in Russia believe their country would be fundamentally threatened by further expansion of NATO to Ukraine, according to veteran Russian and Soviet-era TV host and journalist Vladimir Pozner.
“It speaks to the view that, should Ukraine become a NATO member, and should NATO forces be deployed on Russia’s doorstep, that would constitute an existential threat and therefore cannot be allowed,” Pozner told CNN by email.
Orysia Lutsevych, head of the Ukraine Forum at the Chatham House think tank in London, painted a darker picture of the Russian perspective.
“Modern-day Russia has a syndrome of collapsing empires,” she told CNN by email. “The loss of these lands is presented as ‘historical injustice’ that should be rectified, including by force. Ukraine is viewed as a crown jewel that is ‘being stolen by NATO.’ Tapping into old Soviet scaremongering of the US and NATO, Russians believe it is an aggressive bloc that is in a way of Russia-Ukrainian unity.”
First strike fearsContrary to Western warnings that Russian President Vladimir Putin is putting forces in place for an attack on the country’s western neighbor, only 13% of Russians think the Kremlin is likely to initiate military action towards Ukraine.
Most Russians also do not expect a Ukrainian attack on their country — only 31% of Russians said that was likely. In fact, two out of three (65%) expect a peaceful end to the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
“The reason why 75% of Russians think Russia will not invade Ukraine is simply because of what they read in their newspapers and see on their TV. There is basically no hysteria, no beating of the war drum, a consistent message that we do not want a war and will not start one,” Pozner said.
Pozner said Russians are neither naïve nor ignorant of Western leaders’ warnings that Putin is considering invading Ukraine.
He explained: “Russians know what Western leaders are saying. Their statements are widely featured in the media. The general feeling is that the West in fact wants Russia to attack Ukraine because that would be to the West’s advantage, it is goading Russia to attack.”
But Pozner argued that Russians understand an invasion of Ukraine would be costly.
“They are also of the opinion that, while Ukraine could not stand up to an all-out Russian invasion, Russia would lose much more from that than any military victory would win,” he said.
Most Russians expect a peaceful end to the conflict – Ukrainians are undecidedWe asked: Are either of these scenarios likely or unlikely …
… Russia initiating military action towards Ukraine in the near futureRussian respondents
Likely Don’t know Unlikely
Likely Don’t know Unlikely
… Ukraine initiating military action towards Russia in the near futureRussian respondents
… a peaceful end to tensions between Russia and UkraineRussian respondents
However, according to Lutsevych, the prevalence in Russia of the view that their country was not going to invade Ukraine may illustrate “how Russian state-controlled media and disinformation is shaping an alternative reality for the Russian population.”
“Inside Russia the West is presented as a villain that is abusing Ukraine to undermine Russia’s greatness. In the event of Russian military aggression, Russia will be portrayed as fighting the US and NATO forces, and not killing its Slavic brothers,” Lutsevych said.
Meanwhile, fewer Ukrainians than Russians believe there will be a peaceful end to tensions – only 43% expect that.
But Ukrainians are divided about the possibility of Russia starting a war – 42% expect that, while 45% think it is unlikely. (The remaining 13% say they don’t know.)
More than half of Russians (57%) and three-quarters of Ukrainians (77%) think Ukraine is unlikely to initiate military action towards Russia in the near future, with just 31% in Russia and 13% in Ukraine saying they think it is likely that Ukraine will instigate military conflict.
Russians and Ukrainians do not even agree on whether there are Russian military forces in the separatist-controlled eastern areas of Ukraine known as the Donbas: three quarters of Ukrainians (73%) believe there are Russian troops there, as opposed to one in five Russians (19%).
Younger Russians were more likely than the general population — at 28% — to say their troops were in the Donbas.
The poll was completed before Putin’s announcement that Russia would send what he called “peacekeepers” into the regions.
Russia had maintained for years that it had no soldiers on the ground there, but US, NATO and Ukrainian officials say the Russian government supplies the separatists, provides them with advisory support and intelligence, and embeds its own officers in their ranks.
Brothers or not?Underlying the immediate crisis, Russians and Ukrainians have markedly different views on the relationship between the two countries and th
Half of Russians say it would be right to use military force to keep Ukraine out of NATO
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