02.05.23 Review

Multipolar Disapproval: Nations that have not joined sanctions do not necessarily support Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has worsened Moscow's standing in the eyes of most people worldwide, according to a major poll conducted by Gallup over the past year. Russia's policies are predictably least popular in Western coalition countries. However,Russia should not count on the support of the global South, with Latin America and much of Asia holding a very negative view of its actions. Refusal to join sanctions against Moscow does not necessarily indicate support for the Russian invasion. Contrary to popular perception, global public opinion is not divided into two opposing camps. China's global popularity fares similarly to Russia's, and trust in the United States is declining. In contrast, Germany is the country with the highest ‘global’ approval, holding first place for the sixth year running.

Gallup's large-scale study is based on surveys conducted in 137 countries over the course of 2022, with the aim of finding out how global perceptions of leadership are changing among the major geopolitical players: the US, China, Germany and Russia. As expected, approval of Russia's leadership has plummeted in the wake of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine: the median disapproval of Russia in 2022 stands at 57% (up from 38% in 2021). In 2008-2011, around 30% of respondents either approved or disapproved of Russia's leadership on the international stage; in 2014, the share of those who approved of Russia’s actions fell to 22% before beginning to rise steadily, peaking at 34% in 2020. In 2022, the proportion of people who approve of the country has fallen back to the 'Crimean' level of 2014 (21%).

Russia's disapproval ratings are naturally highest in the Western coalition countries (USA, Canada, Poland) and Ukraine (where over 90% disapprove). The most significant increases in disapproval towards the Russian leadership over the past year have been witnessed in Lithuania (from 44% in 2021 to 91%), Taiwan (from 26% to 72%) and Romania (from 37%  to 79% ). A particularly significant shift is the sharp decline in approval in one of Russia's largest neighbours and former ally, Kazakhstan: approval fell from 55% in 2021 to 29% in 2022 (disapproval in Kazakhstan rose from 20% to 50% over the same year). 

In other regions of the world, the most significant swing towards disapproval has occurred in Latin America. While only Costa Rica has joined in the sanctions regime against Russia, across the region, median disapproval of Russia's leadership has risen from 31% in 2021 to 61% in 2022, while approval has fallen from 37% to 16%. 75% of respondents in Brazil, and 68% in Argentina disapprove of Russia. In Asia, people in Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan are most critical of Russia (59-65% disapprove). In Iran, India, and Indonesia, 46% disapprove of Russia, while around a quarter approve of the country’s actions. As these figures suggest, Russia has little hope of succeeding in its bid for leadership in the global South. And, crucially, disapproval of sanctions does not imply support for Russia.

In sub-Saharan Africa, discontent with the war unleashed by Russia is the least pronounced. But even here, approval of Russia's leadership has fallen from 45% in 2021 to 35% in 2022.

China's global approval rating remains virtually unchanged at 28%, despite its comparatively amicable position vis-à-vis Russia. Beijing's overall disapproval rating is second only to Moscow's, but attitudes towards China vary considerably from region to region. While in Europe, 65% of respondents disapprove of China's policies, in the Americas, the figure is much lower at 48%, and in Asia, it is only 45%. This is comparable to the continent’s disapproval levels for both the US (40%) and Russia (52%). For the time being, therefore, China's claim to global leadership also appears to be unfounded.

Global approval of US leadership has continued to decline, falling to 41% after Washington’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. The most significant drops in approval of the US’ actions — by at least 21 percentage points — were among its key strategic partners in Europe and the Americas, including Greece (31%), Brazil (22%), Canada (22%), and the Netherlands (21%). At the same time, the US saw increased approval ratings in several countries: up 30% in Poland, 29% in Ukraine, 15% in Israel, and 11% in India, reaching an all-time high. The US leadership still enjoys majority support in 42 countries around the world.

According to the survey, Germany’s leaders are the most favoured across the world. For the sixth year in a row, Germany remains the world's most popular global power, with a median global approval rating of 46% for 2022. This is a slight drop on the year before, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz's rating is still higher than most of Angela Merkel's ratings during her time in office. Berlin's approval ratings are the highest in Europe (56%) and Asia (39%). In Asia, Germany is the only one of the four leading countries with a positive rating, with a higher proportion of people approving of the country’s actions (31%) than disapproving. Germany's approval rating of 29% in the Americas is second only to that of the US (36%).