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Pew Opinion Poll: Unity in Russia, Division in Europe, Collapse in Ukraine

Pew opinion poll published in Financial Times confirms deep opposition amongst Western publics to a policy of military confrontation with Russia including over Ukraine.

An opinion poll by Pew published by the Financial Times tells its own story.

In Russia the Ukrainian crisis has caused public opinion to unite behind Putin and the government:

More than 80 per cent approve of how Mr Putin has handled relations with the US and the EU, while 63 per cent say their government respects their personal freedoms, a rise of 18 per cent since 2008.

Within NATO public opinion is deeply divided, with opinion in continental Europe especially hostile to the idea of war with Russia and with almost half the public in NATO countries saying they would oppose going to war to defend even another NATO country against “Russian aggression”.

Fewer than half of respondents in the UK, Poland, Spain, France, Italy and Germany would back using force to help defend a NATO ally that was under military threat from Russia.

In Germany opinion is especially split, with a clear division on east-west lines, with east Germans significantly more pro-Russian than west Germans, but with Germans as a whole much more hostile to conflict with Russia than Americans or Britons.

Almost two-thirds of Americans support Ukrainian membership of NATO compared with about a third of Germans. While 46 per cent of Americans back sending arms to Ukraine, just 19 per cent of Germans do.

Almost as many eastern Germans have a favourable view of Mr Putin (40 per cent) as of the NATO alliance (46 per cent). Some 42 per cent want sanctions against Russia rolled back, compared with 26 per cent in western Germany.

A finding by Pew that will particularly concern NATO chiefs is the high level of doubt of the US in Poland, with fewer than half of Poles believing the US would go to war to defend a NATO country like Poland in the event of a Russian attack.  Given Poland's position on NATO's front-line, NATO is likely to see that lack of confidence as especially worrying.

All this after more than a year of relentless Western media drum-beating about “Russian aggression” in Ukraine, and following many years before that of media criticism of Russia generally.

As for Ukraine itself, opinion polls confirm a collapse of confidence in its political leadership even significantly in western Ukraine with more than half respondents there now rating the Maidan government a "bad influence"

Just a third of Ukrainian respondents think the Kiev government is having a positive influence, a 15 point decline over the past year. 

This shift is particularly marked in western Ukraine, where those seeing the government as a bad influence has increased from 28 to 54 per cent.

President Petro Poroshenko’s approval ratings are at 22 per cent on the economy, and 28 per cent over the military conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to the Pew report.

Whether Western leaders want to face the fact or not, their policy of confrontation is uniting Russia and creating divisions in Europe.  If NATO takes steps towards more confrontation with Russia the potential for an explosion of protest in Europe such as happened in the 1980s is there.

The findings highlight political vulnerabilities that NATO officials fear Russia seeks to exploit, aiming to aggravate divisions on European measures against Russia such as sanctions while instilling doubts about the NATO alliance.

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