Almost a year after Russia’s war against Ukraine started, it has united the west, according to a 15-country survey – but exposed a widening gulf with the rest of the world that is defining the contours of a future global order.
The study, by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) thinktank, surveyed opinions in nine EU member states, including France, Germany and Poland, and in Britain and the US, as well as China, Russia, India and Turkey.
It revealed sharp geographical differences in attitudes to the war, democracy and the global balance of power, the authors said, suggesting Russia’s aggression may be a historic turning point marking the emergence of a “post-western” world order.
“The paradox of the Ukraine war is that the west is both more united, and less influential in the world, than ever before,” said Mark Leonard, the thinktank’s director and a co-author of the report, based on polling carried out last month.
Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford University, who also worked on the study, called the findings “extremely sobering”. The survey showed the war had given the transatlantic west unity and purpose, he said.
However, it had “utterly failed to persuade major powers of the rest, such as China, India and Turkey”. The lesson was clear: “We urgently need a new narrative that is actually persuasive to countries like India, the world’s largest democracy.”
The survey showed western views of Russia had hardened in the past year. Large majorities in Britain (77%), the US (71%) and the nine EU states (65%) regarded Russia as an “adversary”, with which their country was in conflict, or in competition as a “rival”.
On the other hand, just 14% in the US, 15% in the nine EU states surveyed and 8% in Britain viewed Russia as an “ally” who shared their interests, or a “necessary partner”. Western respondents were equally negative in how they described Russia.
Asked to pick two out of 10 proposed descriptions, in the US 45% and 41% respectively of survey respondents chose “aggressive” and “untrustworthy”, along with 48% and 30% in the nine EU countries and 57% and 49% in Britain.
Across the nine EU countries polled, an average of 55% of people favoured continuing sanctions against Moscow even at the expense of economic pain.
Compared with a similar poll last summer, moreover, Russia’s war against Ukraine was now seen by more people in the western alliance as a fight for democracy and their own security – and as a war not just in, but on, Europe, ECFR said.
In the US, 36% of respondents said support for Ukraine was driven mostly by the need to defend American democracy, whereas the prevailing view in the UK (44%) and among the EU nine (45%) was that backing Ukraine was about defending their own security.
More people in Europe (44% in Britain, 38% in the EU nine) believed Ukraine should retake all its territory, even at the cost of a longer war, and fewer (22% and 30%) wanted the war to stop as soon as possible, even if that meant Ukraine ceding land to Russia.
Responses from the non-western countries surveyed, however, were very different. Large numbers of people in China (76%), India (77%) and Turkey (73%), for example, said they felt Russia was “stronger” or “as strong” as before the war. They saw Moscow as a strategic “ally” and “necessary partner” of their country (79%, 79%, 69%).
Similarly, many more (41% in China, 48% in Turkey and 54% in India) wanted the war to end as soon as possible, even if that meant Ukraine ceding territory, while just 23%, 27%, and 30% thought Ukraine should regain its land even at the cost of a longer conflict.
There was a great deal more scepticism, too, about the west’s motives. Fewer than a quarter of those polled in China and Turkey, for example, and only 15% in Russia, believed the west was supporting Ukraine to defend its own security or democracy.
Almost two-thirds of Russian respondents (64%) said the US was an “adversary”, with 51% and 46% saying the same of the EU and UK. In China, 43% perceived the US as a rival, 40% said the same of the UK, and 34% of the EU.
Many outside the west predicted the US-led liberal order would cede global dominance over the next decade, with the west predicted to become just one global power among several. Only 7% in Russia and 6% in China predicted it would be dominant 10 years from now.
In Europe and the US, however, many (29% in Britain, 28% in the EU nine, and 26% in the US) foresaw a new bipolar world of two blocs led by the US and China, whereas there were signs that emerging powers saw the future in more multipolar terms.
In India, for example, 87% of respondents said they regarded the US as an “ally” or “partner”, while 82% felt the same about the EU, 79% about Russia and Britain, and 59% about Turkey. Only China was seen as a “rival” or “adversary” (75%).
“Many people in the west see the coming international order as the return of a cold war-type bipolarity between west and east, democracy and authoritarianism,” the study’s authors said. “But people in those countries see themselves very differently.”
The west will have to live, they said, with “hostile dictatorships such as China and Russia”, but also with independent powers such as India and Turkey. These do not “represent some new third bloc” or even share a common ideology, but nor are they “content to adjust to the whims and plans of the superpowers”.
Rather than expecting them to support “western efforts to defend the fading post-cold war order, we need to be ready to partner with them in building a new one”.