Source: University of Cambridge- Centre for the Future of Democracy

Key Findings

  1. The world has divided into liberal and illiberal spheres. Among the 1.2bn people who inhabit the world’s liberal democracies 87% now hold a negative view of  Russia. However, for the 6.3bn people who live in the rest of the world, the picture is reversed. In these societies, 66% positively towards Russia.
  2. Perceived democratic shortcomings are associated with greater public receptivity towards authoritarian powers. A majority of the public is dissatisfied with democratic performance in 69% of the countries that are majority-favourable to Russia.  
  3. Russia has lost its “fringe” support within western democracies. Over the course of the last decade, the proportion of western citizens with a positive view of Russia had already fallen from 39% to 23% by the eve of the 2022 invasion of Ukraine – and now stands at 12%. Russia has also lost any “leverage points” among formerly sympathetic European countries, including Greece (down from 69% to 30% favourable), Hungary (from 45% to 25%) and Italy (from 38% to 14%). In spite of Russian efforts at fostering disinformation and ties to extremist parties, the country enjoys little support from within western electorates.
  4. However, the real terrain of Russia’s international influence lies outside of the West. 75% of respondents in South Asia, 68% in Francophone Africa, 62% in Southeast Asia continue to view Russia positively in spite of the events of this year.

Behind these differences in how states and diplomatic actors have responded to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, however, lies a more fundamental divide. That is a difference of opinion: not only between leaders, but across societies. When looking at a  map of how different peoples around the global feel towards Russia, there is an almost identical reflection of how their governments have handled the country diplomatically since 2014. This suggests that responses by world governments to Russian actions are motivated by more than mere tactics, interests, or opportunism, but reflect a broader divergence in how societies situate their own place relative to Russia. In countries where a majority of citizens held negative views of Russia in 2021, the negative sentiment only increased in 2022. By contrast, in countries with a higher share of citizens holding positive views of Russia, there are changes in all directions.

In some countries favourable views of Russia remained stable (Indonesia and Egypt) or decreased to a small extent (Vietnam, India, Morocco). There are larger drops in popularity in Nigeria, Iran, and to a greater extent, Bulgaria and Mexico, which turned the previously majority of citizens with positive views into a minority in these countries. In contrast to these, Russia retains the sympathy of a substantial segment of the population in China, Pakistan, Saudia Arabia and Malaysia. In short, reactions to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – whether among diplomats or the general public – are indicative of a much deeper divergence of world-outlooks. That divide is between societies which have aligned behind the United States to challenge the return of authoritarian great powers – and those which seek to either remain neutral, or are being drawn into a new Eurasian sphere of influence that is centred in part by Russia, but above all, by China

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