BERLIN – How long can Europe’s unity against Russia last? The unprecedented public and political unanimity within the EU, which has resulted in sanctions on Russia, Moscow’s political isolation and the welcoming of millions of Ukrainian refugees, may be at risk of fracturing. Nearly five months into the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine, new polling by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) reveals an EU public divided between, and within, countries on what outcome to push towards.
Across the bloc, the ECFR placed 35 per cent of voters within a dovish camp demanding peace as soon as possible, even at the cost of Kyiv making concessions to Moscow, which it termed the “peace camp”. Europeans who believe that peace can only come through Russia’s clear defeat, a group the ECFR named the “justice camp” were less numerous, at 22 per cent. A further 20 per cent are split between the two.
Citizens of some countries lean more towards one of the camps than others. Italians and Germans have the highest proportion of voters in the dovish camp, at around 50 per cent, compared to less than 20 per cent of hawks. By contrast, Finland and Great Britain are roughly evenly split. Poland is the only country polled where hawks (41 per cent) clearly outnumber doves (16 per cent).
The camps broadly reflect a growing split in the Western alliance. One bloc, composed primarily of the US along with European countries in the east and north, including the UK and Poland, views Russia’s defeat as critical and have offered the greatest military support to Kyiv. Another, led by Germany and France, has shown more reluctance to provide heavy weapons to Ukraine and is accused of pushing Kyiv to accept a ceasefire, including territorial concessions to Moscow.
Voters disproportionately believe that the EU will be slightly or much worse off as a result of the war in Ukraine. That includes 61 per cent of doves, 51 per cent of hawks and 64 per cent of swing voters.
The polling indicates growing fatigue with the war, including within more hawkish countries. Asked whether their governments are paying the right amount of attention to the war compared to other issues, 52 per cent of Poles said “too much,” compared to 30 per cent who said “about right”.
Poland is one of the EU countries most supportive of Ukraine, having offered significant political and military support to Kyiv, as well as hosting about 3.5 million Ukrainian refugees. Yet despite an initial burst of solidarity when the war broke out, the polling suggests that some Poles may be tiring of government policies which are viewed as prioritising foreigners over Polish citizens as inflation soars and a cost-of-living crisis grows.
Ukrainian analysts suggest that Russia’s grinding offensive in the Donbas, which looks likely to drag on for weeks or months, is intended to wear down the West’s support for Ukraine over time. “Russia is building its strategy on the assumption that Western countries will get tired and gradually begin to change their militant rhetoric to be more accommodating,” Volodymyr Fesenko, a political analyst, told Associated Press.
Over time, Moscow is likely hoping for the backlash against Western countries’ support for Ukraine to grow as the conflict becomes normalised and voters feel the impact of inflation.
Asked about their biggest concerns with regard to the war in Ukraine, voters ranked the increasing cost of living and the threat of Russia using nuclear weapons equally, at 61 per cent. Despite the war triggering the largest displacement of people in Europe’s since the Second World War, voters ranked Ukrainian refugees moving to their country last in their list of concerns, suggesting that welcoming Ukrainians is viewed as – for the moment – manageable.
The figures indicate that European unity on Ukraine may not last as differences over which outcome to push for become more pronounced. With the war likely to continue for months longer, such divisions are only likely to grow.