13 May, 2022 00:00
What does the West really think about the Ukrainian conflict?
Western leaders are all in, but their citizens have more pressing problems at home, data shows
Whether by sanctions on Moscow or arms deliveries to Kiev, Western leaders have thrown their full support behind Ukraine in response to Russia’s military operation there. However, as the conflict nears its third month, their citizens are increasingly focused on domestic issues.
How important is Ukraine for people around the world?
Regardless of whether their leaders have sided with Ukraine or not, citizens of 26 out of 27 countries surveyed by the Ipsos International Research Center put
“inflation” as their number one concern in an April survey. These include countries that have taken a hard line against Russia (like the US, UK, Canada, and Poland), and those that haven’t condemned Moscow (like India, South Africa, and Saudi Arabia).
Poverty, unemployment, crime, and corruption made up the four most worrying issues behind inflation, with
“military conflict between nations” coming in at a distant 11th, between climate change and immigration control.
Citizens of Poland are most worried about the conflict over their eastern border, with 38% ranking it the most important issue facing the world. Only 20% of Americans rated it their number one issue, while just 13% of Hungarians, who also share a border with Ukraine, rated it top.
Do Westerners want to send weapons to Ukraine?
Some do. While the US has already given nearly $4 billion worth of arms to Ukraine and is on the cusp of authorizing another $40 billion military and economic aid package, a majority of respondents say they’re
“okay” with Ukraine losing the conflict with Russia, according to a recent Democracy Institute poll. Furthermore, they consider Russia the fourth biggest threat to America and would rather see President Joe Biden than Russian President Vladimir Putin leave office.
Yet a majority (59%) polled by Ipsos in the US last month supported arming Ukraine, as did majorities in the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Poland, France, Germany, and Australia.
However, much can change in a month. Germans, whose government recently reversed decades of pacifist foreign policy to ship weapons to Ukraine, are growing more dissatisfied with this about-turn. The latest polls by Germany’s RTL and N-TV networks show support for arming Ukraine dropping from 55% in April to 46% in May. Meanwhile, 44% of Germans now condemn this policy, up from 33% in April.
In Poland, a majority want to go a step further and send
“peacekeeping” troops into Ukraine, as ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has suggested but Poland’s NATO allies have been reluctant to do. Sending Polish troops into Ukraine would risk open war between NATO and Russia. What about sanctions?
Sanctions still enjoy broad approval. Multiple polls show that 67% of Americans and 80% of EU citizens support economic penalties on Moscow. In the UK, 78% of people polled by Ipsos this month support economic sanctions on Russia, but fewer are willing to accept higher food and energy prices in order to hurt Russia’s economy.
A Sunday Telegraph poll last month found that 36% of Britons would endure higher fuel costs to put the squeeze on Putin, down from 50% a month earlier.
Speaking of sanctions
Sanctions have consequences and they have caused financial pain for the West as well as Russia. In the US, where citizens are struggling with record gas prices, multi-decade high inflation, and shortages of food and consumer goods, president Joe Biden has attempted to pin the blame on Russia, with his officials deploying the phrase
“Putin’s price hike.”
Americans aren’t buying the spin. Biden’s approval ratings have bottomed out in multiple polls, with his handling of the economy rated particularly dismally. According to some of the most recent figures, just 29% of Americans approve of Biden’s economic performance, 55% say he’s actively made the economy worse, and vast majorities say he’s not doing enough to tackle inflation (81%) or reduce shortages (73%).
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are now losing public confidence in their management of the economy – typically their strong suit. Germany’s Olaf Scholz is also losing public support amid a drop in industrial output and a predicted decimation of the German economy should Russian energy imports be banned.
Do Westerners support NATO?
The conflict in Ukraine has reinvigorated the Cold War-era NATO alliance, with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calling for more investment from member states and more deployments in Eastern Europe. Approval of the US’ leadership of the military bloc soared in March, and citizens of Finland now overwhelmingly support joining the alliance, with 76% supporting membership this month compared to 53% in February.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin stated on Thursday that they intend to
“rapidly” seek NATO membership.
However, the population of Sweden isn’t as sure, with 57% supporting membership in the alliance last month, up from 51% in March. Media reports on Thursday suggest that the Swedish government will apply to join the bloc alongside Finland next week.
In Austria, a neutral country, the vast majority of the population (75%) oppose NATO membership, while a slim majority of people in Ireland – also neutral – want to stay out of the alliance.