The New Observer Uncategorized How popular was joining NATO in Ukraine?

How popular was joining NATO in Ukraine?

One of the striking facts about this war is that before the war (2022) joining NATO was not massively popular in Ukraine. The Western political-media class make a great song and dance about Ukraine’s “soverign right” to join NATO – but the reality is that this was more foisted on Ukraine than anything else.

1) The elected President Yanokovich committed Ukraine to not joining NATO

Yanokovich was elected in 2010. The election was characterised as offering voters a genuine choice, by the OSCE. [1] He was the legitimate and democratic President of Ukraine. Yanokovich expressed a lack of interest in pushing forwards with NATO membership, [2] though he did take part in certain partnership programmes – in other words, a balanced policy. As the Brookings Institute notes [2] this changed after the Maidan revolution i.e the policy was changed not by elections but by a Western backed coup.

2) In 2014 support for joining NATO in Ukraine was not strong, especially in the East.

These are the figures from a Gallup poll conducted in April 2014 for support for joining NATO:

East: 13.1%

South (not Crimea): 10.3%

Centre: 32.1%

North 37.7%

West 53.2%

In only one region was there even a majority for pursuing NATO integration and then, only just.

3) Support for joining NATO remained weak after the Maidan coup up to 2021

“In March 2014 34% favoured joining NATO, a figure which increased to 54% in November 2021, though even at this time 21% till supported joining a Customs Union with Russia. (Survey data from International Republican Institute).” The survey data is quoted by Professor Richard Sakwa in his book The Lost Peace. [4]

4) It took a war to make joining NATO popular

Now, (April 2024), the figures are much higher; for example, this poll also from the International Republican Institute, gives 77%. [5] I would assume that the poll was not conducted in the Russian occupied territories. It is hardly surprising that in a war a majority seek a strong partner. (If anything, the surprising element is – only 77%). Right up to the war which was precipitated by NATO’s refusual to allow Russia a “zone of influence” (to dictate that Ukraine could not join NATO), support for joining NATO in Ukraine was not especially strong – even in 2021 just 54%.

The idea then that this war is being fought because the plucky Ukrainians wanted to join NATO and they must be defended in that right is sheer fiction. The reality is that the West/US/NATO pushed this on Ukraine. Had they sought the path of peace, as indicated for example by the elected President Victor Yanokovich, Ukraine could have continued to have friendly relations with NATO but stopped short of pursuing membership.


  4. Quoted from Sakwa. International Republican Institute, ‘IRI Ukraine Poll Shows Support for EU/NATO Membership, Concerns over Economy and Vaccines for Covid-19’, 17 December 2021, 54% wanted to join NATO