The Global Leaders and Countries Gaining and Losing Ukrainians' Trust: Change over a Year

Tuesday, 5 December 2023 — , European Pravda
Credit: NATO press service

France and Germany have overcome their image problems in Ukraine, since their leaders are now trusted by Ukrainians. Trust in Moldova's leader has risen sharply, while the leaders of Poland and Türkiye are drifting in the opposite direction.

Ukrainians have such a strong belief in NATO that the current Secretary General is one of the leaders they trust the most. Abandoning the goal of joining the Alliance is an unacceptable scenario for the vast majority.

There is even greater resistance to the potential loss of territory.

In addition, the idea of joining NATO incrementally has significant support among the options if achieving a complete victory is currently impossible.

These are some of the findings of an opinion poll conducted by Info Sapiens on behalf of the New Europe Center (NEC) from 13 to 21 November 2023. There were already many sceptical signals from Western partners back then, so it is especially interesting how Ukrainians reacted to them.

Friends and Not-such-good Friends of Ukraine

Ukrainian politics has been strongly linked to personalities for many years, and so it remains. Parties are most often founded for a specific leader. Foreign policy for ordinary Ukrainians is also very much about personalities. They identify whole states with their de facto leaders, the president or prime minister.

 

There have been no changes in the presidents or governments of Ukraine's key partners over the past year, and this allows us to compare the changes with 2022. A similar survey was conducted by the NEC a year ago. We have rounded the numbers to whole percentages. 

 

So, which Western leaders do Ukrainians trust the most? 


The list was topped by US President Joe Biden, with 82% of respondents saying they "completely trust" him or have "some trust" in him. In second place is Polish President Andrzej Duda with 77%. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tied in third and fourth place (both 74%).

Next on the list, following the top four leaders, are four more Western politicians with high trust ratings: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (66%), Moldovan President Maia Sandu (62%), German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (61%), and French President Emmanuel Macron (55%).

The changes over the past year are extremely interesting.

Only two of the leaders have maintained approximately the same level of trust as last year – Biden and von der Leyen. Both have increased their already high support. All the other leaders have either significantly lost or gained the trust of Ukrainians.

Only one person has lost a lot of trust – Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland. He was the leader most trusted by Ukrainians abroad last year, with a significant lead over others, but now he has lost 9% and dropped to second place. Given the recent Polish-Ukrainian disputes, this is still a moderate decline.

The rest of the current leaders have significantly increased their trust ratings. For example, Maia Sandu (+12% over the year) has gained the most trust among Ukrainians. This is not surprising considering Moldova's significant progress in its public attitude towards Putin and Russia. Now, in every speech about Ukraine, the country's leadership emphasises its gratitude to the Armed Forces and Ukrainians in general for saving Moldova from inevitable Russian occupation.

Trust in the French and German leaders has radically increased (+12% each), with both of them now enjoying the support of the absolute majority of Ukrainians.

The changes demonstrate that Ukrainians now strongly identify leaders with their respective countries. Macron has become the main "advocate for Ukraine" in Western Europe because he actively supports Ukraine's accession to NATO and the EU. He talks personally with sceptics about starting accession negotiations with Ukraine, voted to invite Ukraine to join NATO, has supplied long-range SCALP missiles to Ukraine, and more. Nevertheless, he still lags behind Scholz, although Macron has surpassed his own country and many French politicians in his support for Ukraine.

Olaf Scholz, on the other hand, now has a higher level of trust among Ukrainians than Macron (61% vs 55%), even though he slows down pro-Ukrainian decisions compared to other politicians and officials in Germany. Scholz personally opposes supplying Taurus missiles to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and, together with Biden, blocked Ukraine's invitation to NATO. However, Germany’s overall support lifts Ukrainians’ trust in him.

Regardless of names, the fact that many Ukrainians have started to trust Germany and France is a revolutionary change in their perception of their Western partners.

The survey results are equally interesting when it comes to Ukraine's enemies and unfriendly states. Putin and Lukashenko are, of course, anti-leaders who inspire almost total distrust among Ukrainians. Chinese leader Xi Jinping ranks third, with 85% of Ukrainians saying they mostly or completely distrust him. Distrust in China, as represented by him, has increased by 12% over the year.

Coming in a "respectable" fourth is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, with 78% distrust (+9 over the year). The top five is rounded off by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with 61% distrust (+14!). It’s essentially thanks to Erdoğan's efforts that Türkiye has been transformed from a neutral state into a "rather hostile" one in Ukrainians’ eyes over the past year.

NATO without compromises

It’s no secret that the vast majority of Ukrainians in all Ukrainian-controlled regions and abroad have become staunch EU and NATO supporters. But these survey ratings are record-shattering.

The path to joining both organisations may be protracted, as everyone has probably heard by now. So are Ukrainians ready to sacrifice their future for NATO or the EU? And what will they choose if full NATO membership is not yet achievable?

67% of Ukrainians consider the possibility of refusing to join NATO or declaring Ukraine's neutrality in exchange for peace with Russia to be unacceptable or highly undesirable (57% vs 10%). Only 12% of respondents find this option completely acceptable.

71% of the respondents oppose making concessions to Russia on Ukraine’s EU membership (61% consider this totally unacceptable and 10% undesirable), and only 11% would agree to support this.

Other suggestions that are often heard from Russian propagandists are completely rejected by Ukrainians. Any Ukrainian politician proposing such an exchange should understand that they will be met by resistance and incomprehension from society.

 

Given that the swift liberation of the occupied territories does not look realistic, Ukrainians were also asked about the best interim option for security guarantees until the entire territory is liberated.

The "favourite" option among Ukrainians is one advocated by several Western friends of Ukraine. The expert community often call it the "West German scenario", while opponents more commonly refer to it as "NATO accession in parts". It involves full NATO membership with security guarantees for the territory Ukraine currently controls, while the rest of Ukraine would be under the Alliance's umbrella in the future after de-occupation. This option was supported by 33% of respondents.

In second place with 21% is a defence alliance with the US "with commitments that the US army would protect Ukraine in the event of an attack" (this option is a myth, as it has been rejected in Washington).

In third place with 19% is agreements on security assistance without involving foreign armies, only through the provision of weapons – essentially what is currently being negotiated with Western partners as temporary "security guarantees".

Between Myths and Reality

What does the strong support for "NATO accession in parts" imply? The New Europe Center notes, quite reasonably, that these survey results indicate that citizens see no effective alternative to NATO membership and are willing to accept even partial membership.

The study’s authors point out that "the spread of responses may indicate that Ukrainians are not very well informed about the details of the ‘security guarantees’ discussion and that citizens see no effective alternative to the country’s full NATO membership". Ukrainians have also expressed support for security guarantees through US army intervention in the war, which is not up for discussion.

However, it should also be added that the "NATO accession in parts" option carries very real risks, and in our opinion its promotion by Ukraine is dangerous.

The survey results also indicate that Ukrainians have an idealised view of the state of our relationship with NATO, as can be seen in their expectations of the upcoming NATO summit. Kyiv has received a clear and sharp response from the White House that there will be no discussion of the possibility of Ukraine receiving a symbolic political invitation to join NATO during the Alliance leaders' meeting in July 2024. Yet Ukrainians expect either to receive almost full membership (19% of respondents mentioned this), or at least that the accession process will commence (25%).

So expectations are already overly optimistic seven months before the highest-level meeting.

There may also be some positives to the single-minded focus on NATO. Ukrainians already consider themselves part of the collective security system and are ready to contribute to assist their partners even now, while a full-scale war is raging. When asked "Should Ukraine provide assistance to the US and Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack on Taiwan?" almost half of respondents (47%) answered "Definitely", and only 4% said no on the grounds that "China is our strategic partner".

This unity may not remove every obstacle on Ukraine's path to the Alliance, but it certainly helps Ukraine demonstrate that it is part of a common security space.

You can read the full study in PDF in English.

By Sergiy Sydorenko

Editor, European Pravda

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