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Twice as Many Europeans See Russia as an Adversary Since the Ukraine War

Twice as many Europeans now see Russia as an adversary than did before the war, yet almost half are unconfident that Ukraine will defeat its opponent.

In a multi-country survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), almost two thirds of respondents said they now regarded Russia as an adversary or a rival — double the number of 2021. Public opinion varied broadly across the continent.

Majorities across Denmark, Poland, Sweden and Germany viewed Moscow as an opponent, while only 37% of those surveyed in Italy and 17% in Bulgaria felt the same.

Only one third of respondents said they saw Ukraine winning the war as likely or highly likely, while nearly two fifths (22%) were undecided, and almost half viewed it as unlikely or highly unlikely.

The survey, which comprises public opinion from eleven EU member states — Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden — also found that the majority of Europeans are now in favor of the EU boosting its defense capabilities rather than relying on the U.S.

Almost three quarters (74%) of respondents said the bloc should take steps towards securing its own defense strategy, with the view most pronounced in Hungary, the Netherlands, and Germany. Just 8% said that was unnecessary, as the U.S. will always protect Europe.

“Europeans want to see the EU become more self-reliant in foreign policy and build up its own defensive capabilities.”

Jana Puglierin

The report authors said the findings demonstrated Europeans’ increased demand for self-reliance, particularly following Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor.

“The chief takeaway from our survey is that Europeans want to see the EU become more self-reliant in foreign policy and build up its own defensive capabilities,” said Jana Puglierin, co-author and senior fellow.

“These are not new demands of the EU, or of the leaders of its member states, but they have been sharpened by the war in Ukraine and the growing tensions between the US and China.”

Puglierin added that this could be a “defining moment” for the EU and its prospects of shifting away from its dependence on the U.S. toward its own policy positions.

Waning EU-U.S. interdependence

The report, ‘Keeping America close, Russia down, and China far away: How Europeans navigate a competitive world,’ also explored public response to shifting relations with the U.S. and China.

It signaled a harmonization of relations between Europe and the U.S. since the previous survey, which coincided with the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump.

Majorities in Denmark and Poland, along with pluralities in Netherlands, Sweden, and Germany, said they now view the transatlantic partner as Europe’s “ally” — a significant uptick from 2021, when no country saw Washington as “sharing European interests and values.”

Europeans’ opinions about the likelihood of selected geopolitical events in the next two years.

There was concern, however, about a potential second Trump presidency, with more than half of respondents saying such an event would weaken relations with the U.S.

Europeans were more sanguine on China than are some of the bloc’s leaders, with 43% on average saying they thought of Beijing as a necessary partner, and only one fifth of respondents seeing Europe’s trade and investment relationship with China as bearing more risks than benefits.

The findings place European public opinion more closely in line with that of French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who view China as a strategic and global partner. Others in Brussels, meanwhile, have taken a more hawkish policy position, with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaking of the need to de-risk the EU’s relationship with Beijing.

“European leaders should] enter into an active conversation with their publics to prepare them for various geopolitical scenarios.”

– Pawel Zerka

Most Europeans also said that their country should stay out of any possible conflict with Taiwan. However, the prospect of China supplying arms to Russia was a red line for many and a reason to impose sanctions — even if that would harm Western economies.

There were also concerns about China’s economic agenda. An average of two thirds of those surveyed were uncomfortable with the prospect of Chinese ownership of key infrastructure, such as bridges or ports, as well as tech companies and national newspapers. 

The report’s co-author said European leaders should view the spectrum of opinion as an opportunity to enter into active conversation with the public to prepare them for possible future geopolitical scenarios.

“If European leaders were to base their actions on the expectations of the public, they would fail to prepare for highly disruptive scenarios – with potentially devastating consequences for European security,” Pawel Zerka, senior fellow, said.

Source : CNBC