5th Jun 2023

Europeans can live with longer war if Ukraine wins, report finds

  • Russia is seen as an “adversary” or “rival” by 66 percent of average European asked in the survey (Photo: Alice Kotlyarenko on Unsplash)
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European public opinion remains united on Ukraine and is moving away from a position of ending the war as soon as possible, a new survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) found.

The Ukrainian army's success in pushing back the Russian offensive, has won over previously pessimistic supporters, the report — which is based on surveys in Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain and the UK — noted.

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In May 2022, the prevailing opinion across the countries then polled by ECFR was that the war should end as soon as possible. Poland was the only country where people preferred to see Russia being punished for its aggression.

However, this spring the proposition that the war between Russia and Ukraine should end as soon as possible is no longer that popular among Europeans, according to the report published on Thursday (16 May).

In Germany and France, for example, the number of those who would like to see the war end as soon as possible has dropped by 10 percentage points.

On average, 29 percent want the war to end as soon as possible, while 38 percent want Ukraine to regain all its territory first, even if that means a longer conflict.

In Italy, the picture is less uniform, with supporters of the ruling Brothers of Italy party prefer stopping the war as soon as possible, even if it means Ukraine ceding territory, by 42 percent.

This is similar to other countries, where more supporters of far-right parties — French Marine Le Pen's National Rally (39 percent) and Spain's Vox (35 percent) — want to see a swift end to a war rather than Ukraine not ceding territory on a longer war.

In the countries polled, on average, 47 percent see Russia as "weak" or "weaker", while while 32 percent consider it "strong" or "stronger". Opinion was divided on this though Italy, France, Romania, Spain, and Portugal.

Concerns about Russia's use of nuclear weapons have decreased.

However, the looming economic pressures, and the potential return of migration as a top political issue, could tear apart the European consensus on Ukraine, the report warned.

Worries over the rise in the cost of living is increasing: these fears were strongest in Italy, where 34 percent of those surveyed (up from 25 percent) identified this as a chief concern with regards to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia is seen as an "adversary" or "rival" by as many as 82 percent of respondents (66 percent of average), and by over 50 percent in every country polled except for Romania.

Two years ago, far fewer respondents (ranging from five percent in Bulgaria to 38 percent in Poland) saw Russia as an adversary, and saw it dominantly as a necessary partner, the authors noted.

Almost everywhere in the surveyed countries, with the exception of Italy, the prevailing opinion is that the EU is strong or stronger, rather than weak or weaker, than people had previously thought.

This is the majority view in in Portugal (58 percent) of respondents expressed this view, but also a majority, or plurality, view in: Denmark (55 percent), Poland (54 percent), Romania (51 percent), Estonia (48 percent), Spain (47 percent), Germany (45 percent) and France (41 percent).

On average, only 19 percent of surveyed Europeans said that the EU is weaker than they previously thought.

Pressure remains

The report showed that cracks within the European coalition on Ukraine have shrunk.

"Many political parties of the left and the right are now seemingly united in their support for Kyiv and the Ukrainian army's fight to recover their lost territory", the report said.

The survey said there has been a "fusing" of political opinion between nationalists (pointing to Poland's ruling Law and Justice party) and liberals (French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche), while the US and the EU is now seen as "stronger" than a year ago.

Ivan Krastev, chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies and co-author of the report, said that "contrary to the Kremlin's expectations, Europe has become more united over the past year".

Mark Leonard, director of ECFR, said that "the war has seen an extraordinary coming together of nationalists and liberals" backing Ukraine.

"But next year could put real pressure on this, if Ukraine suffer setbacks on the battlefield, the costs of refugees rise, or Washington pulls back," he warned, adding that European leaders should use this year to prepare for stormier times.

Despite unanimity between the political left and right, cost of living pressures and the possible resurfacing of migration as a top issue could "blow up" Europe's position on Ukraine.


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