Is West Ready to Protect Ukraine from Putin? What Do They Say in Six Main Countries

26 January 2022

Published by ZN.UA

When in trouble, it is very important to feel that you are not alone. When hundreds of thousands of enemy troops are near your borders it is important to have not a hundred, but a few, though strong and influential friends who are ready to support and help. In our current adversity, we are counting on the help of Western friends. But do they consider Ukraine to be their friend? How important is our country for them? How do they see us and our offender in the West? Are our main partners ready to support Ukraine in its pushback to Russia’s aggression?

These and many other issues were addressed in the Yalta European Strategy and the Victor Pinchuk Foundation. Commissioned by them, in December 2021 – January 2022, the US based company Schoen Cooperman Research conducted large-scale sociological survey “How The West Perceives Ukraine and What The West Expects From Ukraine”. The survey was done in six countries – the most important partners of our country in the NATO and the EU: the USA, Canada, the UK, Germany, France and Poland. Surveys in each country were conducted by personal interview in two groups – “general population” (a representative sample of the adult population of 600 people) and “professionals” (185 people in each country). The “professionals” included representatives of technology, business, services/consulting, finance, health care, law, media/entertainment, who have higher education and are in the upper one-quarter or one-third of the income distribution scale in their home country.

As the survey was quite large, in this article our focus will be only on a few topics covered in it, the most relevant for our country today.

Ukraine is not Russia!

No matter how many articles Putin, Medvedev and Surkov published, no matter how hard Moscow propagandists of various calibers tried, no matter how much Russia throws at defaming Ukraine in the eyes of its Western partners, the survey has shown that in majority these efforts are futile and do not give the desired effect. Citizens of the six leading Western countries believe that Ukraine is a more democratic nation, it shares Western values more than Russia, and they tend to trust it more than Russia.

In five of the six countries (with the exception of the United Kingdom), the majority of respondents believe that Russia does not share the same values with the West (there are more than half of them in Canada, France (!) and Germany (!)).

Russia and Ukraine regularly accuse each other of various violations. Almost every day the world receives conflicting messages from Kyiv and Moscow. Who violated the Minsk agreements? Who used banned weapons and fired at a peaceful village in Donbas? Who is holding back the exchange of detainees? Who is preparing for the attack and who is preparing for the defense? Who is right, who is to be blamed?

Who is still more trustworthy for the West?

According to the survey, the population of all six countries tends to trust Ukraine more. In three nations, less than one-tenth of those surveyed trust Russia, and in three more – much less than one-fifth. Neighboring Poland has the highest trust (51%) in Ukraine. But our Normandy Group partners are more skeptical about their perception of statements from Kyiv: in Germany both Russia and Ukraine are equally trusted by 28% of the surveyed respondents: it is even a little more than the number of those who trust only our country (27%). And in France there are more people who do not know who to trust (28%) than those who trust Ukraine (22%).

In the West, Ukraine is seen as fundamentally democratic and Russia is seen as fundamentally not democratic, the authors of the survey concluded. Survey respondents were asked to rate the level of democracy in both Russia and Ukraine on a scale from 1 to 10, where a rating of 1 is the least democratic, and 10 is the most democratic. The vast majority of respondents in all six countries rated Ukraine from 5 to 10. Our country received the lowest rating (58%) in the “stronghold of democracy”, the United States, while the highest (69%) was in Canada.

Notably, EU members France, Germany and Poland consider Russia not democratic to a greater extent, than the usually more demanding Anglo-Saxons – the USA, Canada, and the UK. The least democratic Russia appears in the eyes of the French: 63% of them ranked Russia from 1 to 4. For comparison: only 41% of respondents in the USA rated Russia in this range.

Way higher than in the case of Russia, residents of all six countries praised Ukraine’s commitment to Western values: in almost all countries this figure exceeds 50%. In neighboring Poland most respondents (61%) are convinced that Ukraine and the West are “of one blood”. The ratings only slightly fell short of the “majority” in Germany (48%) and France (47%).

In terms of corruption, we appear in a more favorable light than the Russians, but, unfortunately, not much better. Both Ukraine and Russia in the West are considered to be the countries, in which this evil flourishes. About two-thirds of respondents in all six countries surveyed rated Russia 7-10 (on the scale, where a rating of 10 is the most corrupt and a rating of 1 is the least corrupt): from 63% in the UK and Germany to 70% in the USA. Most respondents put Ukraine in this shameful range: only in Canada there were 35% of such respondents. While in the remaining countries there are over 40%, with the maximum rating (48%) for the Poles, who are more likely than others to visit Ukraine and face our corrupt realities. Obviously, the good news about the incredible success of the “Ze! Team” in the fight against corruption has not yet reached the people of these six states…

But, thank God, Ukraine is known worldwide not only for corruption. When respondents were asked to associate Russia and Ukraine with a number of concepts, the word “freedom” was mentioned much more often in relation to Ukraine. Our country is significantly less associated with anti-Semitism than Russia (despite many years of attempts by Russian propaganda to attribute this sin to us). It is much less seen as “threatening” (except for 51% of Polish respondents). But Ukraine is less associated with the word “strength”, while in five of the six countries more than 80% of the population associates Russia with this concept. “Authoritarian leadership” and “threatening” are two other terms that best correspond to the ideas of Western people about Russia.

Unexpected in the results of the survey was the fact that the population of the West associates Ukraine mostly with “aggressive nationalism”. Moreover, there are more than half of such people in two countries. It can be assumed that in Poland (56%) this is due to the twists and turns of our complex common history. In Germany (52%), it is quite possible that obsessive Russian propaganda has played a role (at the same time, only 2% more Germans saw this “aggressive nationalism” in Russia than in Ukraine). But what connected our country with “aggressive nationalism” in the minds of, for example, 48% of American respondents or 44% of British respondents?

Sad, but let us emphasize that “authoritarian leadership” also proved to be an attribute of Ukraine, occupying the third row in the table of “associations”. Another “black spot” for the “Ze! Team”.

It is also upsetting that, despite widespread recognition of Ukraine’s commitment to Western values, it is still more inclined to be associated with the “Slavic world” and associated with Russia. As it turned out, in four out of six countries, only one-third of respondents believe that Ukrainian is a completely separate language, not a dialect of Russian. Only in Germany and Poland this figure is higher – 38 and 41%, respectively. However, it was in Germany that most respondents (40%) called our melodious language a dialect of Russian. The Polish neighbors also surprised us, a third of whom (34%) are of the same opinion. In short, our diplomacy, especially cultural diplomacy, has something to work on.

Is the West ready to “sacrifice” Ukraine in order to improve relations with Russia?

This question worries almost every Ukrainian today. We are afraid of a “Big Deal”, we are afraid of betrayal and are not quite sure that the West shares “Western values”, rather than striving for “business as usual” with Russia.

To the attention of Western politicians: both general population and “professionals” of your countries are much more inclined to defend and support Ukraine in the confrontation with Russia than to “sacrifice” our country to improve relations with Russia. Less than one-fifth of “general population” of Europe believe that improving relations with Russia is more important than protecting Ukraine from Russian aggression.

To the attention of Ukrainians: do not rush to rejoice and triumph, as the desire of “Westerners” to defend Ukraine decreases sharply when it comes to the possibility of direct conflict with Russia. This is especially true for the member states of the European Union – Poland, France and Germany. If about one-third of the Anglo-Saxons (from the USA, Canada, the UK) are ready to defend Ukraine unconditionally, then in the EU there were less than one-fifth of such respondents (notably, that Poles are the least ready for this – only 14%). In these countries of the European Union, much more popular opinion is that “defending Ukraine is good, but never at the risk of serious conflict with Russia”. Poles (52%) and Germans (51%) share this view the most.

The main reason for supporting Ukraine in the six countries surveyed is also different. Citizens of the non-EU countries (the USA, Canada, the UK) basically base their opinion on a belief that Ukraine is on the front lines of defending democracy against authoritarianism. The French and Poles support our country, believing that it is on the front lines of constraining Russia. While Germans view Ukraine primarily as Europe’s bridge to Asia and Russia

What if there is a war tomorrow?

This week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking of a possible large-scale Russian invasion to Ukraine, stated that the allies were ready to impose economic, financial and political sanctions on the aggressor, with no mention of military support.

However, as the survey showed, the majority of the population of NATO’s leading countries supports the Alliance’s commitment to Ukraine to protect it from Russian aggression, and about two-thirds of the population support this statement in three of the six countries.

Though, again there is one “but”. When it comes to deploying NATO troops in Ukraine right now – in order to prevent the Russian invasion to our country, a significantly smaller number of respondents from the “general population” group are ready to support such a decision. Only in Canada, there are slightly more than half of such – 54%. And the lowest support for this idea was in Germany (22%) and France (33%).

At the same time, in all six countries, the majority of the population and at least two thirds of “professionals” are convinced that Russia will invade Ukraine again!

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba never gets tired of repeating to our Western partners, “Whatever the price of deterrence is now, it will always be lower than the possible future price of ending a new war.” It seems that “professionals” understand this much better than “ordinary people”: in four of the six countries in this group of respondents (the USA, Canada, Poland, France), the support for the preventive deployment of troops from Allied countries in Ukraine ranges from 55% (in France) to 69% (in the USA). In the UK, this figure is less than half of the surveyed “professionals” – 48%, but in Germany it is predictably the least – 41%.

What international actions or approaches can influence or change Russia’s policy towards Ukraine? Opinions of respondents in different countries differed. Germans (both “general population” and “professionals”) preferred to exclude Russia from international trade (18/29%), about the same number chose the answer “Nothing, Russia will not bow to Western pressure” (22/27%). The idea of supplying arms to Ukraine is expectedly the least popular in German society (5/7%). Although it is strange, but the French believe in the strength of armament even less (4/0%), the most popular answer among them is on the resilience of Russia to Western pressure (24/18%) and excluding Russia from international trade (16/26%). Respondents from the EU member state of Poland believe in the effectiveness of additional sanctions (21/17%) and exclusion from international trade (20/21%). One-fifth of Americans are convinced that Russia will not be affected by any action of the international community (20/17%), about as many hope for additional sanctions (17/22%). One-third (31%) of the “general population” of Canada are at a loss and cannot decide about any proposed deterrent for Russia. Another third fluctuates between additional sanctions and exclusion from international trade. And only the British have high hopes not only for this measure, but also significantly more than their NATO allies – for the strength of the weapons supplied to Ukraine (16/15%), which was clearly demonstrated by the real actions of the UK this week.

Is support to Ukraine important for the West?

In recent months, in connection with Russia’s escalation of the situation near our borders, we have heard many words of support from the authorities and politicians of our Western partners. And what about the population of these countries? Can their leaders, when deciding to help our country, count on the understanding and support of such steps by their voters and taxpayers?

As evidenced by the results of the survey, even in the most indifferent or skeptical countries, more than half of the respondents said that support for Ukraine was important for their home country. And in Poland, the United States and Canada, there are about two-thirds of such respondents or even more. Across all six countries surveyed, support for Ukraine and its efforts to defend itself has remained consistent or has grown over the past 5-10 years.

Moreover, between half and two-thirds of the population of these six countries consider Ukraine to be important for European security. This is a good additional argument for official Kyiv, who is trying to convey to Western capital cities the thesis that by defending Ukraine, they are defending their countries and Europe as a whole. It will also help convince the West that Ukraine can be not only a recipient, but it is also able to make a significant contribution to European security.

Is Ukraine welcomed as a member in the EU and NATO?

For two decades we have been hearing, not only from Russia, but also from various Ukrainian political forces: “We are not expected in Europe”, “We are not wanted in the EU and NATO”. Even the most sincere and ardent domestic European integrators and Atlanticists have recently been upset and disappointed by the messages of some western capitals, which make it clear: “The issue of Ukraine’s membership in the EU and NATO is not on the agenda today.”

The good news for Ukraine is that, according to the survey, the population of these countries often disagrees with their leaders on these issues.

In four of the six countries surveyed – the USA, Canada, Poland and Germany (!), support of the population to granting Ukraine with the EU membership in the next 5-10 years was from 50 to 66%. This idea is approved a bit less in France and the UK – 41% each. As for the British, their skepticism is understandable: they themselves have recently left the European Union.

The situation is worse with Ukraine’s support for the NATO membership. It is only in Canada and Poland, where more than half of the population sees our country in the Alliance – 51% each. Support in the United States and Britain fell short of 50%, i.e. Americans and the British gave us 47 and 49%, correspondingly. The French and Germans did not surprise with their 40 and 35%.

But at the same time, the respondents gave interesting responses to the questions, which of the 11 proposed countries would they like to see in the NATO, if the Alliance expands in the next 5-10 years.

In the overall standings, Ukraine, in fact, was the runner-up after Australia. And our country was even in the leaders for the Americans and Poles – they named it more often than the other 10 proposed countries.

At the same time, respondents from all six states where the survey was conducted, both “general population” and “professionals”, with more than two-thirds of the votes favored the previous waves of the NATO enlargement, thanks to which ten countries of Central and Eastern Europe and four Balkan countries joined the Alliance, having expanded this military and political bloc to 30 states.

Moreover, respondents (both “general population” and “professionals”) in their majority (55 to 86%) supported further enlargement of the NATO. With that, in Poland, the USA, Canada and the UK, the majority of respondents in both groups believe that this expansion should take place in the next 5-10 years. And only in France and Germany (and only in the group of “professionals”) respondents are more likely to believe that the process of the Alliance’s enlargement should continue not the next 5-10 years, but “later, in future (maybe, after 2030), when the conditions are right”.

In addition to the positive fact for Ukraine – the second place in the list of theoretical prospective candidates for membership in the Alliance, in this table, another figure comes to the fore, which, frankly, impressed very sadly. 20% of Germans (5% more than those who chose Ukraine) believe that the next country to join the NATO in the next 5-10 years should be Russia. This figure is so striking because most Germans are well aware that Russia is now committing aggression against Ukraine. Meantime, the sociological survey showed 83% of the population of Germany and 91% of its “professionals” believe that there is authoritarian leadership in Russia. 74 and 96%, correspondingly, associate Russia with espionage, 69 and 84% consider it corrupt, 66 and 78% associate Russia with meddling into voting, 62 and 87% associate it with organized crime, 53 and 80% – with oligarchs, 67 and 84% – with frozen conflicts, 52 and 73% – with a threat. And is this the country, which one-fifth of Germans are ready to admit into the NATO in the near future? As a classical author wrote, “Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone”, but, as it turned out, Germany, suffering from certain complexes in relation to Russia, cannot be understood either...

As for the possible further enlargement of the EU – it was also fully supported (55 to 86%) in all six countries selected for the survey in both groups of respondents. Again, in Poland, the USA, Canada and the UK, the majority of respondents believe that this expansion should take place in the next 5-10 years. About one-third of “professionals” in both France and Germany are of the same view. Another third in both countries believe that it is better to continue this process later, after 2030, “when there are good conditions” for this.

Both “general population” and “professionals” mostly agreed with the idea that enlargement of the EU up to 27 members during the period from 2004 to 2013, when the EU was joined by eight countries of the Central and Eastern Europe, two Mediterranean and one Balkan countries, was a positive fact. 

If the EU enlargement continues in the next 5-10 years, then among the 11 countries offered to choose from, most respondents would like to see the United Kingdom as a new member of the European Union, which has recently left it. In this respect, these were the British themselves who gave the most votes for it – 46%. Ukraine again took the second place “in the overall standing”. At the same time, Poles would like to see it in the European Union even more than the UK: about a third of the population of Poland chose our country from the proposed list. And among the British and French, the most popular after the UK was Turkey.

We believe that this sociological survey should give Ukrainians at least a little optimism and reasons not to panic and also not to give up – both in the fight against an external enemy, and in achieving the strategic foreign policy goals set for the country. And to the Western capital cities – determination to support Ukraine and confidence that they are doing the right thing, because support for Ukraine is important to their people.

Author: Tetiana Sylina

Back to news list
Franco Frattini
Franco Frattini
President of SIOI; Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the Transdniestrian Settlement Process; Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy (2008-2011), 15th YES Annual Meeting, 2018
«We extremely need political leadership if you want to see the European Union more proactive on a global scene.»