The Crimea Crisis: Consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian Divide

The recent serious developments in the Ukraine expose growing tensions between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in the country, evident since the Orange Revolution. Recent IZA research shows that these tensions reflect deeper divides in political preferences but also economic disparities between the two ethnic groups.

Two recently published studies co-authored by Amelie F. Constant (IZA and George Washington University), Martin Kahanec (IZA and Central European University) and Klaus F. Zimmermann (IZA and Bonn University) shed light on the sources of the deep economic and political divide between the two largest ethnic groups in Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian.

The first study published in Eastern European Economics shows that voting preferences for the pro-European, pro-Orange, political parties were strongly driven by preferences for western-type market economy and democracy. Independently of preferences for market economy and democracy, however, voting preferences of ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians were markedly different.

As the Russian-Ukrainian differences in voting preferences could not be explained by differences in age, education, region or other socio-demographic characteristics, they rather reflected a deeper ethnic divide in the Ukrainian society.

Specifically, Ukrainian speakers reporting Ukrainian ethnicity (natsionalnost) were shown to be 44 percent less likely to vote pro-European parties, and almost 40 percent (17 percentage points) of this gap was due to ethnicity, the rest being explained by other socio-demographic factors. Interestingly, even those ethnic Ukrainians whose primary language was Russian differed from Russian speakers of Russian ethnicity by 10.5 percent in favor of pro-European parties, of which 34 percent (3.6 percentage points) was due to Ukrainian ethnicity. The gaps were even larger between ethnic Ukrainians who spoke Ukrainian and those who spoke Russian.

The second study published in Economics of Transition sheds light on some economic factors that may explain ethnic tensions in Ukraine. According to this study, whereas Ukraine emerged from the Soviet Union with no ethnic differentials beyond discrepancies that could be explained by regional or socio-demographic differences, an earnings gap between Russian and Ukrainian speakers emerged during Ukraine’s transition.

According to the study, Russian-speaking men earned on average about 28 percent more and Russian-speaking women about 14 percent more than their Ukrainian colleagues. Whereas a larger part of these gaps can be explained by factors such as age, education, or regional differences, 25 percent (6.8 percentage points) of the gap between male workers and 34 percent (4.8 percentage points) of the gap between female workers is due to the ethnic divide between Russian and Ukrainian speakers.

The above studies are downloadable:
A.F. Constant, M. Kahanec, and K. F. Zimmermann, The Russian-Ukrainian Political Divide, Eastern European Economics, 49 (2011), 97-109
A.F. Constant, M. Kahanec, and K. F. Zimmermann, The Russian-Ukrainian Earnings Divide, Economics of Transition, 20 (2012), 1-35
 
The studies use IZA survey data discussed in:
H. Lehmann, A. Muravyev, and K. F. Zimmermann, The Ukrainian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey: Towards a Better Understanding of Labor Markets in Transition, IZA Journal of Labor and Development, 1 (2012), Article 9
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