Most Europeans agree Ukraine ‘should be defended’

9 February 2022, 06:12 PM
Author: Eric Malinowski

The majority of European citizens agree that a likely Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a problem for European security, and want NATO and the European Union to step up and respond to the crisis, according to a Feb. 9 report by European Council on Foreign Relations.

The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is a European think tank focused on research of European foreign and security policy, founded in 2007.

The ECFR conducted this latest survey covering the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis in late January 2022 in the following countries: Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Sweden.

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According to the results, as outlined in ECFR’s report, Russian President Vladimir Putin has succeeded in prompting a “geopolitical awakening” of EU citizens: they no longer consider a war in Europe to be “unthinkable” and feel that Russian aggression needs a European response.

In particular, 73% of Polish respondents agreed that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is likely to occur this year, joined by 52% German and 51% French respondents. Due to Poland’s history and geography, Polish citizens of all age groups consider a potential Russian offensive against Ukraine to be an existential crisis, the report says.

The ECFR’s data suggests that 62% of European citizens think NATO should come to Ukraine’s defense in one way or another, and 60% – that the EU should muster its own response if Moscow chooses to invade.

In terms of confidence in institutions, only 47% of French citizens trust NATO to protect their interests in the case of a Russian attack on Ukraine, sharply contrasted with the 75% of Poles who remain confident in the alliance. And while 65% of Polish citizens would like to see their country come to Ukraine’s aid, their peers in Finland, Italy and Germany don’t think their individual countries ought to intervene, according to the survey.

Curiously, ECFR’s report also demonstrates one of the effects of Brexit: most Europeans don’t think that the United Kingdom should defend Ukraine, with the notable exceptions of Poland and Sweden, whose citizens think London has a role to play in standing up to the Kremlin.

Given Poland’s proximity to Ukraine, it’s no wonder that 77% of Poles think a war in Ukraine would present migratory, economic and energy risks to their country, as per the survey. Meanwhile, 68% of Italians are concerned with their energy dependence on Russia, a share greater than that even of Germans, 59% of whom share this concern.

Most respondents agree that an influx of refugees from Ukraine, higher energy prices, cyber-attacks, and economic decline would all constitute an acceptable price to pay for defending Ukraine. It is only the threat of direct military action against EU members that Europeans consider too overwhelming to endure in exchange for Ukraine’s security, ECFR’s report said.

Following the established pattern, 53% of Poles think a risk of provoking Russian military action against their own country is worth taking in order to defend their eastern neighbor. This figure is contrasted by only 28% of French citizens being of the same mind, with 46% of them thinking that defending Ukraine isn’t worth risking armed hostilities with Moscow, the report suggests.

The survey’s results made it clear that unlike in 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine and occupied Crimea, EU citizens view the current crisis as a European one. This change in the attitude and resolve of Europeans may have come a surprise to Putin. Whether it could alter his calculus when making the final decision to invade Ukraine once again – remains to be seen.

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