N. Peter Kramer’s Weekly Column
Europeans have surprised President Vladimir Putin with their unity so far and decisiveness in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but now they fear seriously the economic pain of a protracted conflict, according to a new polling-backed report* published by the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR). But big stresses are coming now. The survey found that while support remains high for Ukraine, citizen’s preoccupations have shifted away from developments on the battlefield toward the wider felt impacts of the conflict as energy price spikes, cost of economic sanctions, fast rising inflation and supply-chain disruption.
It revealed that many in Europe want the war to end as soon as possible, even if it means territorial loses for Ukraine. Others believe that Russia should be punished and held to account for violations of international law. There is also a belief among the people that the EU, rather than the US or China, will be ‘worse off’ as a result of the conflict. An eye-opener is, that Europeans want to reduce the independence on Russia oil and gas, even at the expense of the EU’s climate goals.
But the big divide that the survey shows, is between those who want to end the war as quickly as possible and those who want Russia to be punished. Mark Leonard, director of ECFR, said: “If badly handled the gap between the ‘peace camp’ and the ‘justice camp’ over Ukraine could be as damaging as that between creditors and debtors during the big euro crisis’. The report cautions EU leaders against taking ‘maximalist positions’ with respect to the conflict and suggest that should remain tough on Russia but cautious about the dangers of escalation. Leonard’s colleague, Ivan Krastev, added: ‘It was the public opinion that brought EU unity following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and it is now for European leaders to sustain this togetherness’.
*the survey was carried out in Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden; between April 28 and May 11, 2022.