Poland Has Had It With Russia

The ratings are out: And Biden falls alongside Putin.

By , a former intern at Foreign Policy, and , an intern at Foreign Policy.
Russians in Poland protest
Russians in Poland protest
Members of the Russian diaspora hold banners and shout slogans against Putin's war on Ukraine in Krakow, Poland, on March 20. Omar Marques/Getty Images

Almost all Poles say they see Russia as a major threat, according to a report released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Some 97 percent of Poles also say they have little or no confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin “to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” The Russian invasion of Ukraine, now reaching its four-month mark, has accelerated a dramatic shift in attitudes in Poland—specifically toward NATO, the European Union, and the issue of immigration.

“That’s incredibly rare to get that kind of unified public opinion on one issue,” Jacob Poushter, associate director of global attitudes research at Pew, told Foreign Policy. “And in this case, it’s just very clear that people in Poland are very wary of Russia.”

Poland and Ukraine have had fraught relations dating back to World War II, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced many Poles and Ukrainians to reconcile: 84 percent of Poles now support arming Ukraine through NATO, and three-quarters of people in Poland want Ukraine to become a NATO member—a significant increase in support since 2015, the year following the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Eastern European country, once a part of the Soviet bloc, has now become a strategic hub for transporting military equipment to Ukrainian forces.

Almost all Poles say they see Russia as a major threat, according to a report released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Some 97 percent of Poles also say they have little or no confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin “to do the right thing regarding world affairs.” The Russian invasion of Ukraine, now reaching its four-month mark, has accelerated a dramatic shift in attitudes in Poland—specifically toward NATO, the European Union, and the issue of immigration.

“That’s incredibly rare to get that kind of unified public opinion on one issue,” Jacob Poushter, associate director of global attitudes research at Pew, told Foreign Policy. “And in this case, it’s just very clear that people in Poland are very wary of Russia.”

Poland and Ukraine have had fraught relations dating back to World War II, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced many Poles and Ukrainians to reconcile: 84 percent of Poles now support arming Ukraine through NATO, and three-quarters of people in Poland want Ukraine to become a NATO member—a significant increase in support since 2015, the year following the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Eastern European country, once a part of the Soviet bloc, has now become a strategic hub for transporting military equipment to Ukrainian forces.

Compared to 2018, when just under half of Poles said they welcomed refugees fleeing conflict and violence, 8 in 10 now support their country taking in refugees. More than 3 million people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine have crossed the border into Poland—making it the country with the highest number of Ukrainian refugees among members of the European Union.

But it’s not just Poland that has seen significant shifts in public opinion since the Russia-Ukraine war began. Other countries including Sweden and Israel have also observed changes in public sentiment on the topics of the NATO alliance and confidence in the U.S. president, respectively.

Pew surveyed people’s attitudes from mid-February to mid-May in 17 countries: Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Israel, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. It also surveyed respondents in the United States regarding views on Russia and NATO in mid-March.

In Europe, several NATO member countries have a significantly higher view of the security alliance this year than last, the report finds. Sixty-five percent of respondents in NATO member countries said they have a favorable opinion of the alliance. Notably, for nonmember Sweden, which is on track to become a member along with historically neutral Finland, approval of the alliance is at an all-time high.

“Changing one’s identity is clearly harder than changing a geopolitical stance,” Foreign Policy columnist Elisabeth Braw wrote on the Nordic countries’ previous refusal to join the alliance. As recently as mid-February, the Swedish government maintained that it would not apply for NATO membership. But the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine changed all that.

Swedish attitudes toward NATO in the weeks immediately after Russia’s invasion in February were already high, with 77 percent of Swedes surveyed having a favorable view of NATO, but they jumped even more in favor of the security alliance within weeks, Poushter said, rising to 84 percent by early April.

Since February, Putin’s war has killed thousands of civilians, caused a global food crisis, and siphoned up billions of dollars in Western weapons—as Ukrainians plead for more. Confidence in Putin across surveyed countries is at rock bottom, with 9 in 10 of all surveyed saying that they do not have confidence in Putin—whom U.S. President Joe Biden has called a “war criminal”—to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs.

But Biden, whose approval rating in the United States has dropped to 39 percent amid rising inflation and soaring domestic gas prices, isn’t so popular with the rest of the world, either.

In almost all of the 14 countries with data for both 2021 and 2022, Biden experienced a dramatic drop in confidence between last year and now, the report found. With the exception of South Korea, Biden saw a double-digit decrease in the percentage of people who have confidence in him as a world leader.

While Biden’s ratings have dropped significantly from 2021 to 2022, people in these countries still view the current U.S. president more favorably than they did his predecessor, former U.S. President Donald Trump. The only country with a lower public opinion of Biden than Trump is Israel, according to the report.

Partisan divisions within the United States have been fodder for the decline in ratings abroad. The Jan. 6, 2022, Capitol insurrection made a particularly strong hit. “America was no longer seen as a democratic ideal,” Poushter said. “A lot of people around the world definitely see the United States as a very partisan place.”

Mary Yang is a former intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @MaryRanYang

Anusha Rathi is an intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @anusharathi_

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