Catarina Thomson, Matthias Mader, Felix Münchow, Jason Reifler, Harald Schoen
European public opinion: united in supporting Ukraine, divided on the future of NATO

International Affairs, 2023: 99, Heft 6, S. 2485–2500
ISSN: 0020-5850 (print), 1468-2346 (online)

• How strong is public support for Ukraine in Europe? Given reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be ‘playing for time’ in the hopes that weary publics will demand an end to supporting Ukraine, this is an important question.

• In February 2023, we conducted a survey of public attitudes in ten major European countries: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Finland, Sweden, Italy and Spain.

• Our findings suggest that Europeans are (almost) unanimous in blaming Russia for the war and strongly in favour of standing by Ukraine in its war effort.

• Only minorities of respondents are of the opinion that Ukraine should be urged to accept territorial losses that could help end the war, or that economic sanctions against Russia should be lifted. Even in countries where support for Ukraine is lower (Hungary and Italy), or among more sceptical groups, we typically find a majority or plurality on Ukraine's side (or, at worst, we find only a small majority are pro-Russia).

• Regarding NATO, there is no widespread appetite for increasing its presence in eastern Europe (except in Poland and Estonia), and even less support for Ukraine joining the alliance. At least in the eyes of the public, fighting a war in Ukraine is perceived as a goal in itself that does not necessarily elicit broader changes to existing security alliances like NATO.

• Looking ahead, if the gap between the expectations audiences had for the Ukrainian counter-offensive and what it actually delivers is too great, we would expect public support for Ukraine in the conflict to weaken overall.

• If governments wish to keep support levels high, we recommend targeting communications to reach groups we have found to be less supportive. This could include utilizing non-traditional media platforms to reach younger audiences, or members of populist right-wing groups.