KIEV (Reuters) - Fewer differences may divide Ukrainians in the Russian-speaking east from compatriots in the west than generally thought, according to an opinion poll issued on Friday showing both regions backing negotiations to resolve differences over Crimea.
The survey, conducted by the GfK market research company for the Avaaz international civic network after Russian forces took control of Crimea, also showed a majority in the two areas favoring closer ties with both Russia and the European Union.
Ukraine’s new authorities, in power since the removal of Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovich last month, say they will pursue plans to clinch an association agreement with the European Union. It was Yanukovich’s decision to abandon such an accord that triggered three months of mass protests.
The opinion survey, involving 2,000 mobile telephone interviews, showed more than 76 percent of respondents in eastern Ukraine saying they “strongly” or “somewhat” favor talks to guarantee minority rights and ensure Russian troops in Crimea return to their bases.
More than 90 percent of western Ukrainians backed talks.
In populous eastern Ukraine, more than 56 percent of those polled said they would prefer the ex-Soviet state to align itself equally with Moscow and the West.
In western Ukraine, that notion was backed by nearly 44 percent, while nationwide the figure stood at 52 percent.
The survey also showed a degree of consensus on the removal of Yanukovich, following the deaths of dozens of people in mass demonstrations in Kiev. In eastern Ukraine, more than 67 percent of respondents approved of Yanukovich’s overthrow, with the figure climbing to 94 percent in the west.
Radically different views persisted, however, in terms of Russian forces securing control over Crimea ahead of a referendum on Sunday on the region joining Russia.
In the east, 24 percent of respondents said Russian action had been “strongly” or “somewhat” justified. That figure dropped to just over 3 percent in the west.
Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Andrew Heavens