Geopolitics

Russia’s Reputation Among Europeans Has Slipped Amid Ukraine Standoff

But while Moscow’s threats have underlined the key U.S. role in Europe’s security, many there remain ambivalent about America and the transatlantic alliance

UN libya conference in berlin
French President Emmanuel Macron, right, speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin before a meeting in Berlin in January 2020. (Emmanuele Contini/Getty Images)

The Ukraine crisis has given a new generation of Europeans a taste of what growing up during the Cold War might have felt like, with opinions of Russia on the decline over the past few months as it has threatened to invade Ukraine unless it abandons desires to get closer to the West. 

At the same time, views of the NATO security pact and its most powerful member country, the United States, have held steady or improved as U.S. President Joe Biden has tried to piece together a united front against Moscow. But the devil is in the details: While countries in Northern Europe show higher levels of antipathy toward Russia, adults in Southern Europe appear to be less perturbed. 

On the numbers

  • Polish adults are the most negative when it comes to Russia, with 69 percent holding unfavorable views, compared to 14 percent with positive views. Poles were also the most positive about the United States, with 69 percent viewing the country favorably, which is an increase of 4 percentage points since polling conducted in October and November.
  • Poles are also by far the most positive about NATO, with a steady 68 percent of adults holding favorable views — more than 17 points higher than the next country, Italy.
  • While more people hold negative attitudes toward Russia than those with positive views across each country surveyed, there was a split between Northern and Southern Europe. More than 60 percent of Germans, Poles and Brits view Russia unfavorably, compared to less than 20 percent with positive views — but only 50 percent of French and Spanish adults and less than half of Italians had negative opinions of Russia, while between 18 and 30 percent in those three countries had positive opinions.
  • However, negative views of Russia did not necessarily translate into more positive views of the United States. Germans in particular were ambivalent, with 43 percent holding favorable views of America versus 40 percent with unfavorable views, roughly unchanged from fall of 2021.
  • French adults warmed slightly on NATO — with positive views ticking up 6 percentage points to 33 percent while negative views fell 4 points to 24 percent. 

The big picture

Poles had the clearest pro-NATO, anti-Russian opinions. Poles may see much of their own history in the Ukraine crisis, as both nations were dominated by Moscow for much of the 20th century. A former member of the Soviet Union’s anti-NATO Warsaw Pact, Poland was able to achieve precisely what Russia now hopes to prevent in former Soviet member state Ukraine: NATO membership and stronger links to the West.

Germans, for their part, were similarly negative on Russia, but were also the most ambivalent about the United States. Jason McMann, Morning Consult’s head of geopolitical risk analysis, said that might be because the United States was hinting it “might go it alone if Germany and other NATO allies cannot harmonize their responses to Russian aggression.” Berlin has so far been uncomfortable with any U.S. troop deployments or weapons shipments to its eastern neighbors or Ukraine, preferring to exhaust all diplomatic options with Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron has also stuck to his commitment to diplomacy, and French adults expressed the most ambivalence about NATO. However, it’s important to keep in mind France’s long history of unease with its place inside the alliance, with President Charles de Gaulle going so far as to partially withdraw from the alliance in 1966. Still, McMann noted one trend to watch: France was the only European NATO member country surveyed besides the United Kingdom where positive views toward the alliance grew stronger.

The polls were conducted Oct. 11-Nov. 9, 2021; Nov. 10-Dec. 9, 2021; Dec. 10, 2021-Jan. 8, 2022; and Jan. 9-Feb. 7, 2022. Each poll was conducted among a representative sample of at least 862 adults in each of the countries listed above, with unweighted margins of error ranging from plus or minus 1 to 3 percentage points.

Morning Consult