Not so today. Putin has succeeded where centuries of Ukrainian nationalists failed: he has created a strong sense of national identity—and he has imbued it with deep anti-Russian sentiment. After Russia’s seizure of Crimea and some 10,000 dead in Donbass, that is easily understood.
Opinion polls bear that out. An April 2017 survey conducted by Rating Group Ukraine had 57 percent of respondents expressing a cold or very cold attitude toward Russia, as opposed to 17 percent who expressed a warm or very warm attitude.
Hostility toward Moscow manifests itself in other ways. More Ukrainians now make a point to use Ukrainian rather than Russian. Harkening back to Moscow’s claim to a special right to protect ethnic Russians and Russians speakers, wherever they might be and regardless of their citizenship, a joke on the streets in Kyiv is “I’m afraid of speaking Russian now, because Putin might want to protect me.”
As attitudes toward Russia harden, the leadership in Kiev has found itself with less room for maneuver. In summer 2014, Ukrainian President Poroshenko hinted of a readiness to set aside any push to draw closer to NATO as part of an effort settle differences with Moscow. Now, he firmly embraces the goal of NATO membership, as unrealistic as that may be in the near term
Mr. Putin’s conflict with Ukraine also reinforces an anti-Russian bias in the Ukrainian Parliament. Today, 423 of the chamber’s 450 seats are filled. The other 27 sit empty—awaiting elections for representatives from constituencies in Crimea and eastern Donbas, those parts of Ukraine illegally annexed by Moscow or occupied by Russian and Russian proxy forces.
Those are also areas that traditionally tended to vote for political parties more sympathetic to Moscow. The Opposition Bloc, successor to Victor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, would have a significantly larger presence in the Rada if deputies were elected to occupy those 27 seats.