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The West’s narrative on Ukraine hasn’t convinced the rest of the world

While the public in western countries firmly supports Kyiv, views in other parts of the world are more ambiguous.

By Ido Vock

BERLIN – A year after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, polling for the European Council on Foreign Affairs think tank shows that public opinion on the war differs markedly between many western and non-western states. The polling indicates that western leaders’ attempts to shore up support for Ukraine across the world have not been wholly successful.

While public opinion in 11 of the western countries polled – including nine EU member states, the UK and the US – was firmly behind Ukraine, people in Russia, China, India and Turkey were more likely to support Kyiv making territorial concessions to obtain peace (which Ukrainians have repeatedly said they are unwilling to do). The results indicate that the West about the invasion has not convinced those in other parts of the world of its narrative about the invasion, according to the authors of the report, Timothy Garton Ash, Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard. With relations between Russia and the West at an all-time low, Moscow has conversely been trying to deepen its relationship with other countries, including China, India and Turkey.

[See also: Death and literature in Ukraine]

Mark Galeotti, an expert on the Russian security services, said the polling “reveals the danger of the easy western triumphalism that assumes its opinions are ‘the world’s’ – and that having let so many wars in the Global South burn, we could count on their support in a war that matters to us”.

A clear divide between western and non-western countries emerged in the poll when respondents were asked about their perceptions of Russia. In India, Turkey and China, more than 70 per cent of respondents considered Russia either an ally or a necessary partner. Less than 25 per cent viewed it as either a rival or an adversary. 

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By contrast, the majority of people in the western countries polled view Russia with suspicion. On average 70 per cent saw Russia as an adversary or rival and less than 15 per cent as an ally or partner. 

The polling also indicates a shift in how Europeans view trade relations with Russia, which has long supplied significant proportions of the continent’s energy, although imports have been significantly reduced since the invasion. Asked which approach their country should take to sourcing energy, Europeans in the nine EU member states overwhelmingly supported avoiding buying energy from Russia over ensuring an uninterrupted energy supply. Across the nine countries, 55 per cent said their country should not buy Russian energy, while just 24 per cent said their governments should focus on security of supply. 

In India, Turkey, Russia and China, meanwhile, more people agreed that the war “needs to stop as soon as possible, even if it means Ukraine giving control of areas to Russia” than with the idea that “Ukraine needs to regain all its territory”. A smaller number even said that Russian territorial aggression against Ukraine should be accepted to push back “western dominance of the world”.

More people in the western countries agreed that Ukraine should win the war than those that thought the conflict should end as fast as possible, at the cost of Kyiv ceding territory to Russia. Over a quarter of people in China, India and Turkey did, however, indicate support for Ukraine regaining its territory. The figure in Russia was much lower, at just 5 per cent. 

Some minor divides between western countries also appeared, however. Asked why Europe stands behind Ukraine, around 45 per cent of respondents in the UK and the nine EU member states said “to defend their own security”. Just 28 per cent said the same in the US.

As the war in Ukraine enters its second year, the polling indicates that while public opinion in the West is consolidated behind support for Ukraine, views elsewhere are more ambivalent. That may have effects on the course of the war – and diplomatic efforts to end it.

[See also: Is Putin really willing to go nuclear?]

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