11.07.23 Review

Good, bad, evil: Vladimir Putin is not trusted anywhere in the world except India, while Volodymir Zelensky's image 'is not so clear'

Globally, Russia and Vladimir Putin are viewed negatively. According to a poll conducted in 24 countries by the Pew Research Center, 82% of respondents have a negative attitude towards Russia and 87% do not trust Putin's decisions. At the same time, in the countries of the Global South, we see almost equally negative attitudes in Latin America, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, positive attitudes towards Russia and Putin in India and Indonesia. Public attitudes towards Volodymir Zelensky look different: his decisions are trusted by an average of 51% of respondents worldwide. Moreover, even in many Western countries, Zelensky's support is lower than one might expect. In Spain, France, and the United States, 50-56% of those polled have a favourable opinion of the Ukrainian president's actions on the world stage, while in Italy and Greece his approval rating is negative. While Putin is mostly supported by people with right-wing views, the opposition to Zelensky is mainly formed by ‘isolationists’, regardless of what side of the political spectrum they are on.

The sample of the Pew Research Center poll, conducted in late spring in 24 countries, is skewed in favour of developed countries (16) and members of the Western sanctions coalition (15 of the countries surveyed), but generally represents different regions of the world. The results of the poll show that the absolute majority of respondents do not see Vladimir Putin as a leader who 'does the right thing on the world stage.' The median negative assessment of his performance is 87%, while the median negative assessment of Russia is 82%. 

Developed countries are the main contributors to this result. Among middle-income countries, Putin is not popular in Latin America, where, on average, 72% of respondents tend to see him as a 'bad guy'. In Africa, 50% of those polled share this view. Putin is most warmly regarded in India and Indonesia, where he has a positive approval rating: in India 51% view him positively vs. 33% negative, and in Indonesia 43% vs. 26%, respectively.

When compared to the results of the Pew Research Center's 2019 pre-pandemic survey, in the Global South Putin's trust has largely declined: in Argentina it fell from 30% to 14%, in South Africa from 36% to 30%, in Brazil from 17% to 12%, in Mexico from 28% to 24%, and in Nigeria from 41% to 38%. 

The research notes that, in Europe, trust in Putin is strongly correlated with respondents' support for certain political forces: European supporters of Putin are mostly voters of right-wing and populist parties. In Italy, for example, 16% of right-wing voters say they trust the Russian president, while only 4% of left-wing voters say they trust him. Putin is more trusted by supporters of the 'National Rally' in France, 'Alternative for Germany' in Germany, 'Greek Solution' in Greece, 'Lega' and 'Forza Italia’ in Italy, and 'Reform UK' in the United Kingdom. 

Attitudes towards Russia in the countries surveyed are predominantly negative. The share of those who expressed an unfavourable attitude towards Russia ranges from 98% in Poland, 96% in Sweden and 92% in Spain to 46-47% in Nigeria and Kenya. The strongest pro-Russian public sentiment is observed in Indonesia and India, where only 30-31% of respondents hold a negative view of Russia. Surprisingly, in Europe, Russia is not viewed most favourably by Hungary, where 77% of respondents are critical of Russia, but by Greece: about one-third of Greeks say they have a favourable attitude towards Russia, but two-thirds of those polled there hold a negative opinion as well.

In ten European countries and in India, where the issue of access to Russian oil and gas has played an important role, respondents were asked whether it was more important to be tough on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine or to maintain access to Russian energy resources. Most European countries were in favour of a tough stance (France and Italy were slightly less confident in this opinion), but Greece and India were clearly pragmatic, with 60% and 71% of respondents respectively considering access to oil and gas to be of paramount importance, while in Hungary 76% of respondents placed economic considerations above political principles (18%).

While global attitudes towards Putin are, on the whole, unambiguously negative, with the exception of India and Indonesia (where almost 1.7 billion people live), the attitude towards President Zelensky is deeply ambiguous. And this is true both in the countries of the Global South and in developed countries. In Northern Europe, Poland, Germany, Great Britain, South Korea, Japan and Canada, public opinion is overwhelmingly positive (62% to 86% of respondents have confidence in the Ukrainian president). In Spain, as in the USA, Zelensky has a 55% positive approval rating. In France, 50% of those polled trust the Ukrainian president while 47% do not. And, in Italy, Greece and Hungary, Zelensky has a negative approval rating (86% of those polled in Hungary do not trust him while just 11% do). Moreover, in Latin America and Israel , negative assessments of the Ukrainian president are almost twice as prevalent as positive ones. In India, Zelensky has only a slightly lower  level of trust than Putin (50% vs. 35%).

At the same time, attitudes towards Zelensky are not attached to any political  'party'. In a number of countries, respondents from the left side of the political spectrum are more inclined to trust him, but this is due to the fact that the right-wing is, generally speaking, more isolationist. At the same time, in Greece, for example, the left is characterised by a higher level of opposition to EU structures, so views of Zelensky are comparatively worse than among those on the right.

In addition, in the 11 NATO member countries polled, the pollsters asked respondents to evaluate their opinion of the alliance, whose summit opened today in Lithuania. The profile of responses is much like that of positive attitudes towards Zelensky (the most positive assessment is found in Poland, where 93% of respondents have a positive view of NATO). In France, Spain and Hungary, 53-56% of those polled have a positive view of the alliance, while 35-39% have a rather negative view. In Greece, NATO has a negative approval rating: 40% of those polled view the alliance positively while 55% hold a negative view (in the eyes of the Greeks polled, NATO’s rating has increased by 7 percentage points on the survey conducted in 2022). In Sweden, which is due to be formally admitted to the alliance this week, 78% have a positive view of NATO and 19% a negative view of the alliance.