Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s border has triggered a mood change in Europe. Against a backdrop of rapidly escalating tensions, majorities in Europe now believe that Russia will invade Ukraine in 2022, and hold the view that the EU and NATO should stand behind Kyiv in such a scenario, according to a new polling-backed study published today by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
ECFR’s survey of seven EU member states found that, in the event of conflict between Ukraine and Russia, European citizens regard NATO and its thirty individual member countries as the primary defenders of Ukrainian sovereignty. This is especially pronounced in member states geographically situated near Europe’s eastern border, such as Poland, Sweden, Romania, as well as in Italy.
The survey also detected that, when it comes to defending Ukraine, Europeans put their trust in both NATO and the EU, and do not trust the United States to be as, or more, committed to the defence of the EU citizens’ interest in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. In all countries, with the exception of Poland and Romania, more people trust Germany, rather than the United States, to defend EU citizens’ interest in such a scenario. And, even in Poland, respondents see NATO (75%) and the EU (67%) – not the United States (63%) – as those who are the most trustworthy on that matter.
The new ECFR polling, which was conducted by Datapraxis, AnalitiQs and Dynata in seven EU member states – Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania and Sweden – further reveals that European citizens are prepared to bear “large”, and potentially long-term, threats as a consequence of their defence of Ukraine. These include refugee pressure on European borders; higher energy costs, new policies of economic coercion; cyber attacks; and the threat of further military action by the Russian state. Majorities in most of the surveyed countries (Poland, 77%; Italy, 68%; Romania, 65%; Germany, 59%; Finland, 59%; France, 51%), and a plurality in Sweden (47%), see energy dependence as a security threat for their country in the context of the current crisis. Poland, Sweden and Romania are the countries where respondents are most likely to believe it is worth bearing the risk of all the above consequences in the event of a Russian invasion. In France, Finland, and Germany, the view, in the main, is that the rewards do not trump the risks.
ECFR’s pan-European survey of seven EU member states key findings:–
● Europeans believe Russia will invade Ukraine in 2022. In every surveyed country – apart from Finland – a majority of respondents think Russia will invade Ukraine this year. The breakdown for each country is as follows: Finland (44%), France (51%), Germany (52%), Italy (51%), Poland (73%), Romania (64%) and Sweden (55%). There is also an interesting generational divide. In France and Sweden people older than 60 are more inclined to see the invasion as likely, while in Romania, Italy, Germany and Finland, it is the youngest generation – people born after the end of the Cold War – who are most likely to see it as a realistic scenario.
● Europeans think NATO and the EU should come to Ukraine’s defence in the event of Russian invasion. In all of the surveyed countries NATO and the EU are seen as the organisations best positioned to defend Ukraine. The breakdown for each country is as follows: Finland (56% EU / 59% NATO), France (53% / 55%), Germany (47% / 50%), Italy (64% / 67%), Poland (80% / 79%), Romania (57% / 63%), Sweden (61% / 64%). In Poland, uniquely, the EU is held in slightly higher regard. On the question of whom they trust to protect EU citizens’ interests in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, at least half of those surveyed in each country – rising to over 60% in Poland, Sweden, Italy, and Romania – trust the EU to protect them. In Sweden and Finland, respondents have greater trust in the EU than in NATO (although both command majorities).
● Europeans see heightened “security threats” for their countries emerging as a consequence of Russia’s stance towards Ukraine. A plurality of those surveyed by ECFR believe that Russia’s current stance towards Ukraine presents a “large security threat” to their country in the areas of energy dependence, economy, migration, cyber warfare, and military action. In Poland, Romania and Sweden respondents are also most likely to say that coming to the aid of Ukraine is “worth the risk” of facing the consequences in each of these areas. In Poland, in particular, 53% of those surveyed believe supporting Ukraine is worth the risk of facing the threat of Russian military action aimed at their country; and 61% say it’s worth the risk of facing national economic downturn.
● Europeans see energy dependency as their most significant shared challenge in dealing with Russia. Majorities in all surveyed countries, apart from Sweden (47%), say that Russia’s stance towards Ukraine poses a security threat to their country in that area. This view is most pronounced in Poland, where 77% of respondents see Russia’s stance towards Ukraine as a large security threat in the area of energy dependence. In Germany, the biggest consumer of Russian gas in the EU, the corresponding number stands at 59%; while elsewhere, majorities in Finland (59%), France (51%), Italy (68%) and Romania (65%) also share this view.
In their analysis of this data, foreign policy experts, Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev, believe that, if Vladimir Putin sought to “force” Europeans to think about the viability of the post-Cold War order, through the threat of invasion, he has “succeeded”. However, they contend that what might surprise the Russian president is the strength of feeling in Europe towards defending Ukraine. They argue that “the next few weeks will test whether Europeans can make the transition “from a world shaped by soft power to one shaped by resilience”, and that this question will have a “crucial bearing” on the future of European security.
Commenting on the polling, Mark Leonard, co-founder and director of ECFR said: “The Russia-Ukraine crisis could turn out to be a watershed for European security. EU states have been portrayed as divided, weak and absent on Ukraine. However, our survey shows that European citizens – from the north, south, east and west – are united. They agree that Vladimir Putin might pursue military action, and that Europe, together with its NATO partners, should ride to Ukraine’s aid.”
“The data we’ve collected suggests something of a geopolitical awakening in Europe and points to four fundamental points: that war in Europe is thinkable once again; that the EU should respond to Russian aggression; that the biggest fears, from this conflict, differ from country-to-country; and that the EU and its member governments must now make preparations to reduce the burden borne by its citizens.”
Chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Ivan Krastev, added: “Our survey reveals that European public opinion exists and that regardless of differences between the different nation states it is a factor strengthening, rather than weakening, the EU’s determination to respond in case of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine.”
“But the survey also signals that Europe is not ready yet for the age of resilience in which the strength of the geopolitical actors is defined not simply by how much pain they can inflict on others but by how much pain they can endure themselves.”
This new poll, and the accompanying commentary, form part of a wider project by ECFR to understand the opinions and demands of Europeans, with regards foreign policy. Prior polling-backed publications include examinations of how the COVID-19 crisis has re-ordered political views and identities in Europe, as well as polling-backed research into European views towards, and expectations of, the United States and other international powers.