Europeans who see Russia as adversary or rival double in number since 2021

<span>Photograph: Gavriil Grigorov/AP</span>
Photograph: Gavriil Grigorov/AP

Fifteen months after Russia invaded Ukraine, twice as many Europeans – almost two-thirds – view Moscow as an adversary or rival as did before the war, but opinions on the continent’s long-term relations with its eastern neighbour still vary widely.

A multi-country survey by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) also found a large majority in favour of the EU boosting its defence capabilities rather than relying on the US and many seeing China as a partner, not a competitor.

“Europeans want to see the EU become more self-reliant in foreign policy and build up its own defence capabilities,” said one of the authors, Jana Puglierin, adding that the demands had been “sharpened” by the war and mounting US-China tensions.

“This could be a defining moment for the EU,” she said, whether it can “reconcile differences of opinion within the bloc, and shift from its dependence on the US to a position where it can strike its own policy positions”.


About 64% of respondents across the 11 EU member states in the survey said they saw Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a competitor (9%) or, worse, an opponent (55%) – double the number who felt the same way when the question was asked in 2021.

The proportion of people holding a strongly negative view of Russia varied widely, however, ranging from 74% in Denmark, 71% in Poland, 70% in Sweden, 67% in the Netherlands and 62% in Germany, to 37% in Italy and just 17% in Bulgaria.

About 39% of Hungarians and 65% of Bulgarians saw Russia as an ally or a necessary partner. “Worryingly, Italy falls somewhere in between,” the report’s authors wrote. “Other capitals could fear Rome revisiting its [pro-Ukraine] stance.”

A smaller proportion of Europeans – almost half (48%) – said they thought their country should have only a “limited” relationship with Russia if the war ended in a negotiated peace settlement, for example by trading only in certain industries.

Again there was a wide range of opinion, with Poland (39%) the most in favour of cutting all ties with Russia, while Germany (26%), Hungary (32%), Austria (36%) and Bulgaria (51%) showed strong support for full postwar cooperation with Russia.

“The prevailing view is that Europe should pursue a limited relationship with Russia,” the report’s authors said. “Overall, this provides the foundation for an agreement among the European public ... But some controversy looks unavoidable.”

The report, Keeping America Close, Russia Down, and China Far Away, found the US had largely restored its reputation as a friend and partner of the EU since the previous survey, when responses were strongly marked by Donald Trump’s presidency.

In 2021, no country saw Washington as an ally “sharing European interests and values”. This year, 32% across the 11 countries felt that was the case, ranging from 55% in Denmark to 13% in Bulgaria, while 43% saw the US as a necessary partner.


There was, however, clear anxiety about Trump’s possible re-election: 56% felt this would weaken relations with the US. That led to strong majority support (74%) for the idea the EU must look after its own defence, rather than rely on the US for security.

A majority of 62% across all 11 nations also said their country should stay out of any Taiwan conflict. Less than a quarter said they would want their government to take the US side, with support highest in Sweden, Poland and the Netherlands.

However, the report suggested few Europeans were in step with the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, who has called for the bloc to reassess relations with Beijing and develop “a clear-eyed picture on what the risks are”.

Only one in five saw Europe’s trade and investment relationship with China as bearing more risks than benefits, with large pluralities (43% on average) saying they thought of Beijing as a necessary partner and would balk at the idea of imposing sanctions.

Even though 70% of Europeans recognised China and Russia were partners on the global stage – as evidenced by their “no limits” economic partnership, announced in February last year – there was little appetite to “decouple” relations with Beijing.

But there were concerns about China’s economic agenda and soft power ambitions, with many Europeans uncomfortable about Chinese ownership of key infrastructure such as bridges or ports (65%) and tech companies (58%).


For many, eventual Chinese arms deliveries to Russia would be a clear red line, with an average of 41% saying that would prompt them to back economic sanctions on Beijing even if it harmed western economies.

Puglierin and her co-author, Pawel Zerka, said European leaders should identify where the public was open to ambitious policies – such as scaling up EU defence – while acknowledging the variations and limitations in the support.

There was scope for building a common ground on relations with China, they argued, since citizens seemed sceptical of China’s practical economic presence, and to framing discussion on China around preserving European values.