Since the Euromaidan protests began in November 2013, the Ukraine conflict has occurred on several levels. There is a military conflict between a state, a rebel movement, and another state. There is mass-level political and material support of a pro-European government and a pro-Russian rebellion. And there has been an information war in which all parties have worked to define the conflict on their terms. This last dimension is the subject of this memo. It analyzes how psychological tendencies to view the world in self-serving ways, coupled with political opportunism, have contributed to escalation of the crisis and complicated its resolution. The resulting polarization in attitudes, while not the only factor, has made resolution of the current conflict and long-term reconciliation within Ukraine more difficult.
Fear and Loathing in Kyiv
After November 2013, several narratives took shape to define the Ukraine crisis. At the risk of oversimplifying, pro-European Ukrainians understood the situation as follows: The Euromaidan was a pure expression of the people’s will to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and anchor it in the zone of European democracies. President Viktor Yanukovych ceded his right to rule when he ordered troops to kill unarmed protesters. The government that formed after his ouster was therefore legitimate.
Opponents of the Euromaidan argued that the protests involved a non-representative minority. They called the overthrow of Yanukovych a coup, which countered popular will as expressed through the 2010 democratic presidential election. Russia and its sympathizers further alleged U.S. backing of the Euromaidan and called its supporters fascists. […]