Six months of bloody war in Ukraine

Ukrainian flags are still waiving in the breeze in my neighborhood, and in nearly all the places our family visited in Europe this summer. The flags are a remarkable display of solidarity and index of how much the Ukrainian war has stirred emotions in the Western world (though not, it has to be said, beyond it for many different reasons). Here’s a picture of one unexpected encounter I had with a Ukrainian flag memorial in Cathedral of Our Lady (Antwerp). Interesting there was a Russian language tour group in the cathedral at the time so they would have encountered this on their visit. The productive discomfort of that encounter is one of many arguments against the idea of a ban of Russians visiting Europe.

The war remains an incredibly dangerous one, with the potential for even greater escalation. I wrote about this in an overview article on the six months for the Irish Times here.

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New Research: Ukrainian attitudes toward territorial compromises.

The war in Ukraine is incredibly ugly, with thousands loosing their lives as Russian forces grab more and more Ukrainian territory. In wartime, rally-around-the-flag affective waves are to be expected. People feel patriotic because their country has been attacked or is in a war where service members are under fire. Patriotic waves may emerge from everyday life, from the bottom up, in local circumstances and occasions. It may also be lead by national figures, by the televised national address by the national leader or by some occasion and ritual organized to express and perform patriotism.

Henry Hale has done some path-breaking research on wartime rallying by making connections to the reputation cascade literature in behavioral economics and psychology. He studies authoritarian context, most especially Russia, and his research demonstrated that wartime rallying cascades included some if not considerable preference falsification. Put differently, people saw that the times required them to appear patriotic, show patriotism (flags and flag emojis on social media) and rally to their country’s leader so they did even though they were not necessarily supportive of the reason or event or leader that triggered the patriotic wave. Who wants to be called ‘unpatriotic’ even if the war doesn’t seem like a good idea to you, and you don’t really trust or like the President?

This literature, the literature on indivisible territory, on sacred values, and on wartime violence experience and support for peace negotiations and settlements inform the research I am currently pursuing with my colleagues. Kristin Bakke, for example, has just published some really interesting research on wartime experience and popular support for peace agreements. There’ll be a lot more on this appearing in the next year or so but today our first piece on this was published in The Conversation. Here it is:

Ukraine: most people refuse to compromise on territory, but willingness to make peace depends on their war experiences – new survey

The most striking, and sobering finding, is how self-reported insecurity softens attitudes toward territorial compromise. Those affected most by this awful war want an immediate ceasefire.

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Articles in The Irish Times on the Ukraine Crisis and War

I love The Irish Times. It is a paper I grew up with, a paper my father sold in our village shop in rural Ireland (after having read it himself!). What I also really like is that the paper is owned not by a corporation but an Irish trust, The Irish Times Trust, and that the purpose of trust is to strengthen the newspaper. No News Corp here: no pandering to grievances and conspiracies for profit. The Irish Times is the newspaper of record in Ireland that holds the power structures of the country and beyond to account. This is how it should be in a democratic society: an independent press run by professional journalists with an accountability, governance and democratic culture mission. It is well worth supporting with a subscription (and you get to read the superlative columns of Fintan O’Toole).

In any case, like many Irish academics, I wrote a number of pieces for the Irish Times down the years. This has picked up recently because of the Ukraine crisis: I am grateful for the opportunity to write for an Irish and European audience from the United States. Here are some of the pieces I wrote for them in the last few months:

Delusions on all sides has paved way for Russia-Nato standoff 22 December, 2021.

Putin takes a calculated gamble, 25 February 2022.

War can be ended but peace would be tough for Ukraine to swallow, 12 March 2022.

Talks kindle hope of peace in Ukraine but suspicions remain, 2 April 2022.

Messianic desire in Ukraine, but no Victory Day prize for Putin, 9 May 2022.

Ukraine has become a sacred cause, beyond the bounds of compromise, 4 June 2022.

Bosnia the blueprint for Russian tactics in Donbas, 12 June 2022.

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Research on public opinion in the Donbas on the eve of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine on 24 February 2022 has brought death and destruction to thousands of people and places, while displacing millions of innocent civilians within Ukraine and across Europe.

My colleagues and I have tried down the years to work with the best Ukrainian and Russian survey companies to capture public opinion in the contested region of the Donbas. Just before the outbreak of the war (in January 2022), through the determined and dedicated efforts of Dr John O’Loughlin in particular, we were able to organize a relatively short CATI (computer-aided-phone-interview) survey on both sides of the then dividing line in the Donbas. This research involved three survey companies, Levada Marketing Center from Moscow, the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in Kyiv, and R Research which is officially based in the UK but operates from Kyiv.

Here are some links to the initial public presentation of the findings from this research, which was funded by ZOIS, the Centre for East European and International Studies in Berlin, directed by Dr Gwendolyn Sasse.

Before the invasion:

Ukrainians in our survey weren’t enthusiastic about NATO exercises close to Russia. Washington Post, 19 January 2022.

Will Russia recognize the independence of two eastern Ukraine republics? Here’s what people there think. Washington Post, 17 February 2022.

Virtual Panel Presentation on Donbas Public Opinion at the Kennan Institute, 23 February 2022.

After the invasion:

Do People in Donbas Want to be ‘Liberated’ by Russia? Washington Post, 15 April, 2022.

The Perils and Benefits of Surveying in a Conflict Zone: Cautionary Tales and Results from Donbas 2020-2022, video panel on the Donbas research for ZOIS, 19 May, 2022.

Academic articles based on this research will be forthcoming.

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New Research on Public Attitudes in the Contested Donbas/s Region

In September-October 2021 our research project on geopolitical orientations in Russia’s neighboring states and breakaway regions organized, in collaboration with ZOIS in Berlin, a computer aided telephone survey (CATI) in the contested Donbas/s region of Ukraine.

Conducting research in contested regions is always difficult, most especially in territories that restrict access to independent social science researchers. Suspicion runs deep that researchers have secret agendas or really work as spies (we don’t!). The Donbas/s is a particularly difficult research area as the conflict is still kinetic and sadly claims victims regularly. It is also a divided space. Made up of two Ukrainian oblasts (Luhansk/Lugansh & Donetsk), it features areas controlled by the legitimate Ukrainian government and areas controlled by Russian supported separatists. In English these are often rendered as government and non-government controlled areas (GCA and NGCA). In Ukrainian, the terminology is different. The separatist areas are termed ORDLO, literally separate districts of Donetsk and Luhansk region: Окремі райони Донецької та Луганської областей. They are also designated as “temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” by a ministry of that name within the Ukrainian state. There is a lot of emotion surrounding this conflict and researchers have to understand yet contend with that to do serious independent social science research.

Computer assisted phone survey research presents challenges anywhere. Most people do not answer their phone. A lot refuse to take a survey if they do. And then some quit before the survey is completed. The maximum time one can talk is generally considered 20 minutes. Ideally it should be less than that.

To get at opinion on both sides of the dividing line in the Donbas/s, we organized for two separate survey firms — KIIS and Levada Marketing — to conduct the CATI survey at the same time. Both used the same script of questions (it was available in Ukrainian and Russian but nearly everyone chose the Russian). We are working on academic papers based on this research. Since it is of public interest, we released the headline results in a series of publications since February of this year (it took some time to check and double check the data). Below are links to publications and presentations on the data:

From the Washington Post: A new survey of the Ukraine-Russia conflict finds deeply divided views in the contested Donbas region

The Russian translation is here.

From Global Voices: Capturing the mood on both sides of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in Donbas. Links from this piece take you to translations of it in Russian, Ukrainian, French, Esperanto, Spanish and Greek.

We’ve participated in two video presentations of this work so far (recorded on Zoom and posted to Youtube).

As the academic year ends, we hope to make progress publishing this work in regular academic journals. This research has no political agenda beyond presentation of best practice social science research results for public debate and informed policy making.

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Public Outreach Articles on New Research Findings 2020

2020

G. Toal, “Five ways the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will change the map.” Washington Post. 16 November. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/11/16/five-ways-2020-nagorno-karabakh-conflict-will-change-map/

K. Bakke, G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, “Nagorno-Karabakh: what do residents of the contested territory want for their future?” The Conversation. 12 October. https://theconversation.com/nagorno-karabakh-what-do-residents-of-the-contested-territory-want-for-their-future-147690

G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, K. Bakke, “The fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh is about local territories and wider rivalries.” Washington Post. 2 October. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/10/02/fighting-nagorno-karabakh-is-about-local-territories-wider-rivalries/

J. O’Loughlin, G. Toal, K. Bakke, “Is Belarus in the midst of a generational upheaval? Global Voices. 17 September. https://globalvoices.org/2020/09/17/is-belarus-in-the-midst-of-a-generational-upheaval/ (translated into Spanish, Ukrainian and Greek).

G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, K. Bakke, “What’s Driving the Belarus Protests?” Washington Post. 21 August, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/08/21/whats-driving-belarus-protests/

G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, K. Bakke, “Flight MH17 crashed six years ago. Ukrainians have very different views on who’s to blame.” Washington Post. 16 July. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/16/flight-mh17-crashed-six-years-ago-ukrainians-have-very-different-views-whos-blame/

M. Laruelle, G. Toal, J. O’Loughin, K. Bakke, “Kazakhs are wary of neighbours bearing gifts.” Open Democracy, 30 April. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/kazakhs-are-wary-neighbours-bearing-gifts/

J, O’Loughlin, G. Toal and K. Bakke. “Response to Ukrainian Foreign Minister.” Foreign Affairs. 21 April. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2020-04-21/peril-polling-crimea

G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, and K. Bakke. “Are some NGOs really “foreign agents”? Here’s what people in Georgia and Ukraine say.” Open Democracy. 16 April. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/are-some-ngos-really-foreign-agents-heres-what-people-georgia-and-ukraine-say/

J, O’Loughlin, G. Toal and K. Bakke, “To Russia With Love: The Majority of Crimeans Are Still Glad for Their Annexation.” Foreign Affairs. 3 April. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/ukraine/2020-04-03/russia-love

G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, K. Bakke, “Six years and $20 billion in Russian investment later, Crimeans are happy with Russian annexation,” Washington Post. 18 March. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/03/18/six-years-20-billion-russian-investment-later-crimeans-are-happy-with-russian-annexation/

G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, K. Bakke, “Is Ukraine caught between Europe and Russia? We asked Ukrainians this important question.” Washington Post. 26 February. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/02/26/is-ukraine-caught-between-europe-russia-we-asked-ukrainians-this-important-question/

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Re-visiting Blame Attribution around the MH17 Tragedy

On the 6th anniversary of the horrific tragedy of the destruction of the civilian passenger aircraft Malaysian Airways Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, my colleagues and I published the results of our latest survey on blame attribution over the event in The Monkey Cage blog of the Washington Post.

Here’s the initial write up of the first survey results.

And a link to the subsequent academic paper.

And a link to the latest results.

The piece has lots of links to excellent sources for those interested in following up. We have results from other locations and we’ll be publishing these in due time.

 

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First Look at Geopolitical Orientations

The COVID crisis has upended the planned roll-out of the research results of the Geopolitical Orientations Project (see previous post from February). Fortunately we were finished the survey research process just before the crisis really hit (though we were unable to survey in all the places we had hoped to do so, for various reasons).

We were able to compose a series of short pieces for general audiences on data from the project. While we had positive experiences with various editors, it is worth noting that we do not choose the headings or sub-headings of these pieces nor the accompanying photo. Further, the process of writing for a general audience does mean some compromise on language and framing. The ‘translation’ from academic language to popular language can sometimes be tricky. Here are the pieces that have been published to date:

  1. Data on the Geopolitical Orientation and Aspirations of the Ukrainian people. (Monkey Cage blog, Washington Post)
  2. Data on the attitudes of Crimeans six years after annexation, including trust in various leaders (Monkey Cage blog, Washington Post)
  3. Longer article on political attitudes in Crimea, including perceptions of biggest problems (for Foreign Affairs blog). This article elicited a response opinion editorial from the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, available here, along with our short response.
  4. Article on perceptions of NGOs as “foreign agents” in Georgia and Ukraine (Open Democracy Russia).
  5. Article on attitudes toward the influence of the various “great powers” in Kazakhstan,with an emphasis on perceptions of China before the Covid crisis, and subsequent info war, took hold (Open Democracy Russia).

Our project is structured as a panel survey. Researchers often hope for a “big event” in between the first round of surveys and the second round. Well, we’ve got that and its massively ugly and awful. No one wished for this.

Because of a longstanding interest in geopolitical conspiracies, our surveys did include some generic and specific blame attribution conspiracy statements. One of these was about the spreading of a virus. We’re analyzing that now and will write it up for academic publication, with a general audience version thereafter I expect.

Be safe everyone.

 

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Forthcoming Presentations on Geopolitical Orientations Research in 2020

Below are my currently scheduled or proposed academic conference presentations for this year (so far). Some are joint presentation with Dr John O’Loughlin, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado-Boulder (johno@colorado.edu). Together with Dr Kristin Bakke, we’ll also be presenting data from our NSF/RCUK project throughout this year at universities and research centers. (My book-in-progress work is separate from all this).

Political Geography Specialty Group Pre-Conference, Boulder Colorado, April.

The Regional Effect in Ukraine Revisited: New Evidence with National Polling Data

Association of American Geographer’s Conference, Denver, Colorado, April.

Popular Support for Geopolitical Conspiracy Theories in Russia’s Neighboring States

Association for the Study of Nationalities Conference, New York, May

Are States on Russia’s Borders Really In-Between Lands? Measuring and Assessing the Geopolitical Orientations of 12 Post-Soviet States.

The Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies, Washington DC, November

With Russia or NATO? Preferences from 2020 survey data for military relations in Western Post-Soviet Eurasia.

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Publications in 2019

Here’s a list of pieces that have appeared in 2019. All were collaborative publications this year. With over 3000 downloads so far, the Crimea paper manifestly generated the most interest. There should, consequently, be considerable interest in our forthcoming work on public opinion in this most disputed of territories.

Those interested in my current book project (which is going very slowly) will find the conversation with Veit Bachmann the most relevant (and hopefully interesting).

Gela Merabishvili’s Ph D research on border walls continues apace. Hopefully he’ll be able to defend his Ph D research this year, and start to get more of his research into the public arena.

J. O’Loughlin, G. Toal, “Does War Change Geopolitical Attitudes? A Comparative Analysis of 2014 Surveys in Southeast Ukraine.Problems of Post-Communism. Online, 15 November. https://doi.org/10.1080/10758216.2019.1672565

G. Toal, J. O’Loughlin, “The Crimea Conundrum: Legitimacy and Public Opinion After Annexation.” Eurasian Geography and Economics. 60, 1: 6-27. https://doi.org/10.1080/15387216.2019.1593873

G. Toal, G. Merabishvili, “Borderization Theatre: Geopolitical Entrepreneurship on the South Ossetia Boundary Line, 2008–2018,” Caucasus Survey, 7, 2: 110-133. https://doi.org/10.1080/23761199.2019.1565192

V. Bachmann, G. Toal, “Geopolitics – Thick and Complex. A Conversation with Gerard Toal. Erdkunke, 73, 2, 143-155.  https://doi.10.3112/erdkunde.2019.02.05

 

 

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