Is the EU out of step with voters on Russia-Ukraine crisis?

Poll suggests Europeans want the bloc and Nato to fight alongside Kiev in confrontation with Moscow

Emmanuel Macron shakes hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev
Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky following talks in Kiev on Tuesday
(Image credit: Volodymyr Tarasov/ Ukrinform/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

A majority of Europeans believe that Russia will invade Ukraine this year – and that Nato and the EU should stand by its eastern European ally in an armed conflict with Moscow, a continent-wide poll has found.

The survey results suggest the crisis “could end up dramatically changing the way Europeans view their security”, with citizens across the EU “prepared to accept significant, potentially long-term threats as a result of defending Ukraine”, The Guardian reported.

The responses from thousands of people quizzed across seven EU members states point to “something of a geopolitical awakening in Europe”, said Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), which carried out the polling.

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“EU states have been portrayed as divided, weak and absent on Ukraine,” he continued. “But European citizens are united – they agree Vladimir Putin may pursue military action, and that Europe, together with its Nato partners, should ride to Ukraine’s aid.”

Bear baiting

Of a total 5,529 people polled in Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Sweden, the majority believed that Russia would launch an attempted invasion of Ukraine in the coming year.

In France and Italy, 51% thought the Kremlin would give the order for an armed incursion. That view was held by 52% in Germany, 55% in Sweden, 64% Romania and 73% in Poland, while Finland was a slight outlier, at 44%.

Majorities in all seven countries “saw Nato and its 30 individual member states as the main defenders of Ukrainian sovereignty”. The Guardian reported. But the respondents “also clearly felt the EU bore a strong responsibility to come to Ukraine��s defence”.

In Finland, 56% of respondents said they believed the EU would be well positioned to come to Ukraine’s defence, while 59% thought Nato would. Elsewhere, the figures were, respectively, 53% and 55% for France; 47% and 50% for Germany; 64% and 67% for Italy; 80% and 79% for Poland; 57% and 63% for Romania; and 61% and 64% for Sweden.

A majority also felt that a united defence of Ukraine was the right thing to do in the event of a Russian attack. A total of 54% said the US should provide aid, while 49% thought Germany should step in. Fewer respondents felt that the UK had a role to play, with just 44% saying Britain should aid Ukraine.

The findings also suggest Europeans would be willing to accept “large numbers of refugees, higher energy costs, economic coercion, cyberattacks and the threat of Russian military action” as a result of coming to Ukraine’s defence, The Guardian reported.

Citizens in Poland, Romania and Sweden were more likely to say that aiding Ukraine was “worth the risk”, with 53% of those in Poland saying that supporting Ukraine was even worth the risk of “possible military action” aimed at their country.

But “citizens in France and Germany were the least willing to bear any of these potential burdens”, the paper said – opposition that could prove crucial within the EU.

The study’s authors wrote that the findings show there is “no longer much truth in the cliche that Europeans believe war is unthinkable and take peace for granted”. Instead, “they perceive their world as being in a pre-war rather than postwar state”, according to the researchers.

Political appetite

“The next few weeks will test whether Europeans can make the transition from a world shaped by soft power to one shaped by resilience,” said the European Council on Foreign Relations report.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has repeatedly offered “only evasions” when asked about the consequences for Moscow in the event of an invasion, The Telegraph reported.

During a meeting with Joe Biden in Washington this week, Scholz “found about a dozen different ways to say ‘Nato is united’”, wrote the newspaper’s US editor Nick Allen. But “not once would he publicly back Biden in vowing to pull the plug on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline” from Russia if Putin invaded.

The “gap” between what the US president and Scholz were willing to publicly commit to was “big enough for Putin to drive a tank division through”, Allen added.

That verdict was echoed by Deutsche Welle’s chief political editor Michaela Kufner, who described the White House meeting as “Scholz’s failed mission”. The chancellor met with Biden for the talks in an effort to give “reassurances about Germany’s commitment to Ukraine”, but did “little to convince his critics”, Kufner said.

Emmanuel Macron’s interventions have also caused “​​concern” among France’s Nato allies, said The Guardian’s diplomatic editor Patrick Wintour. After a five-hour meeting with Putin in Moscow on Monday, the French president “hinted at shifts in Nato’s outlook that some members say should never be made in response to military intimidation”.

“At one level”, Macron “stuck pretty faithfully to the script he had exhaustively agreed” with the alliance, Wintour reported. But “his particular view of Russia as a European nation, and lofty talk of new security guarantees, will have set alarm bells ringing”.

Macron yesterday flew to Kiev for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, before jetting to Berlin last night for a meeting with Scholz and their Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda. The trio, who have labelled themselves the “Weimar Triangle”, issued a communique affirming their commitment to “uphold the security and stability in the region and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine”.

They also “stressed the need for strong military deterrence” as a key element of Nato’s “dual-track approach” to Russian aggression, said Politico’s Brussels Playbook. But the “jury is still out” on the extent to which EU leaders have an appetite for conflict with the Kremlin.

According to the survey report authors, the findings suggest “that Europeans would see another Russian invasion of Ukraine as an attack not just on a neighbouring country but on the European security order itself”.

Whether EU leaders heed this call would be “pivotal to the future of European security”, they warned.

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