Claim in 2018: 54 percent of Ukrainians now support joining NATO.

Incorrect: While one 2015 poll did show that 54 percent of Ukrainians supported joining NATO, more recent polls consistently show a lower level of support. (Fact-check done in September-December 2018.)

Source of claim: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (September 2018)

In an interview published Sept. 13 by The Washington Post, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was quoted as saying that “Ukraine has as the purpose of its foreign policy to become a full member of the European Union and of NATO. … Not just association, full membership. … can you imagine that … 54 percent of Ukrainians now support NATO integration? Why? Because NATO has demonstrated it is the only instrument of security which is efficient in the world.” Poroshenko did not cite the source of the figure. Poroshenko’s comments indicate that Ukrainian authorities remain determined to integrate their country into NATO while engaged in a military conflict with Russia.  Moscow, on the contrary, seems to view the alliance entry for former Soviet republics not already in the alliance as something of a red line.  This conflict of interests may escalate into an armed conflict, which can impact not only security of the two countries, but also national security interests of the United States and its European allies. That is why we believe it is important to undertake this fact-check of Poroshenko’s claim.

While, as stated above, the president did not provide source for his estimate of Ukrainians’ support for NATO membership, it is possible that his claim of 54 percent support for Ukraine’s integration into NATO may have been based on data from the Gorshenin Institute, a non-profit research organization in Kiev. In 2015, the institute found that 54.1 percent of those polled said that, given the chance, they would vote “for joining NATO.[1] (The pollsters’ question was: “If there were a referendum today on Ukraine’s joining NATO, how would you vote?”) Since then, however, the Gorshenin Institute has surveyed Ukrainians on the topic at least once a year, with results ranging from 46.1 percent of respondents in favor of NATO entry in June 2017 to 50.5 percent in May 2018.

Five other polls conducted in 2015 gave significantly lower numbers in favor of NATO entry than the 54 percent cited by Poroshenko, ranging from 43.3 to 48 percent, as shown in the table below. All the surveys we could find from those pollsters since then give even lower numbers. This includes four 2018 polls conducted before September, when the Post interview was published. A June/July 2018 poll by Rating, another Ukrainian pollster, showed 42 percent support for Ukraine’s entry into NATO, while a June 2018 poll by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) reported 41.1 percent in favor. Yet another June 2018 poll, by the Washington, D.C.-based International Republican Institute (IRI), found that 43 percent of Ukrainians would vote for NATO integration.[2] In an August 2018 poll, KIIS and the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiative Foundation, a Ukrainian NGO, found that 41.6 percent of respondents support NATO accession. Finally, in September 2018, the Razumkov Center (another Ukrainian NGO) in conjunction with a couple of other organizations reported that 46.3 percent of Ukrainians support joining the organization.[3]

The Washington Post interview was not the first time Poroshenko has cited the 54 percent when discussing Ukrainian support for NATO entry in the past two years. He mentioned the number in October 2016,[4] in February 2017 in an interview with a German newspaper and in July 2018. In the first two instances, the poll data we have found showed support to be between 38 and 47 percent, in the third between 40 and 50.5 percent.

This table shows the highest percentage of respondents in favor of NATO entry in a given year[5] (lower figures are given in the footnotes below):

Pollster

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

Gorshenin Institute[6]

 

35.3 (May)

53.4 (Oct.)

54.1 (Feb.)

47.1 (Feb.)

46.1 (June)

50.5 (May)

Rating[7]

 

 

51 (Nov.)

46 (Dec.)

47 (Jan.)

45 (Sept.)

44 (June)

Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS)[8]

 

 

47.8 (Sep.)

43.3 (March)

43.9 (May/June)

44.8 (Sept.)[9]

41.4% (Apr.)

Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiative Foundation[10]

13 (April)

 

46 (Dec.)

46 (Nov.)

44 (Dec.)

47 (June)

41.6 (Aug.)

Razumkov Centre[11]

 

 

36.7

43.3

44.3 (Sept.)

43.2 (Nov.)

46.3 (Sept.)

IRI[12]

 

 

43 (Sept.)

48 (Nov.)

45 (Feb.)

46 (April)

43 (June)

Institute of Sociology (Ukrainian National Academy of Science)[13]

 

14

35

43

38

40 (July)

 

It is worth noting that the poll results cited above for 2014 and later do not include respondents in Crimea, which is under de facto Russian control, or in separatist-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. According to 2018 estimates, the combined population of these areas totaled some 6.1 million of Ukraine’s 44.7 million people, or about 13 percent (2.3 million in Crimea, 2.3 million in the DNR, and 1.5 million in the LNR).[14] As regional variations in opinions about NATO entry persist in Ukraine, these omissions may affect poll results.

It is likewise worth noting that respondents in favor of NATO entry have consistently outnumbered anti-NATO-entry respondents, so if the question of NATO accession were subjected to a simple-majority popular vote it would likely pass. Nonetheless, the polling data indicate that the real level of support for NATO accession in Ukrainian society is lower than the number cited by Poroshenko, even when Crimea and separatist-occupied areas are not counted. Thus, while Poroshenko’s 54-percent figure may have been supported by some data three years ago, it was not accurate “now”, which was at the time of his September 2018 statement.

[1] Here and elsewhere the hyperlinked source for Gorshenin Institute data is Lb.ua, a news website run by the institute.

[2] This poll was conducted on IRI’s behalf by the Ukraine-based pollster Rating.

[3] This poll was done Aug. 30-Sept. 9, 2018, so it is unclear whether Poroshenko would have had access to the data at the time of his statement.

[4] Comments at time code 20:25.

[5] A poll conducted by Rating, KIIS and the Razumkov Centre between Oct. 19 and Nov. 2 showed 40% in favor of NATO entry and 36% against, but we have not included the survey above as it was clearly conducted after Poroshenko’s remarks.

[6] 2014: June—47.3%; 2018: Sept.—50.0%. Data source: Lb.ua, the Gorshenin Institute’s news site.

[7] 2014: March—34%, April—38%, Sept.—43%; 2015: April—46%, Aug.—45%; 2016: July—42%, Sept.—41%; 2017: May—43%, Nov.—44%; 2018: April—43%, July—42%. Data source: PDF.

[8] KIIS did include respondents from separatist-held territory in Donetsk and Luhansk regions (DNR and LNR, respectively) in this 2015 report, which cites 2015 support for NATO entry at 37% and 2014 support at 44%; however, the institute’s Yulia Sakhno clarified that, since KIIS polls from May 2016 onward have not included respondents from these areas, the data for 2014 and 2015 were amended in future reports to exclude DNR and LNR for purposes of consistency. Additional polls: 2015: May—39.6% (DNR/LNR excluded); 2016: Sept.—39.2%; 2017: Feb.—41%, May—41%; 2018: June—41.1%.

[9] In citing this poll, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister on questions of Euro-integration Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze claimed that 62% of Ukrainians supported NATO accession. In fact, KIIS found 62% support among those who said they would participate in the referendum, not among all respondents.

[10] 2014: May—33%, Sept.—44%; 2015: July—36%; 2016: May—43%. Data source: PDF.

[11] 2018 poll carried out in conjunction with KIIS and SOCIS.

[12] 2014: March—34%, April—38%; 2015: July—41%, Sept.—48%; 2016: Sept.—43%, June—39%; 2017: June—40%, Sept.—34%, Dec.—37%; 2018: March—43%. Data source: PDF.

[13] As reported by UNIAN news agency.

[14] Crimea—2014 data (most recent); DNR/LNR—January 2017. Hyperlinked source giving population of Ukraine does not include Crimea and Sevastopol; figure cited in text does.