January 15, 2009

European Worries About Reliance on Russian Energy Were Already High

by Erin Carriere-Kretschmer, Senior Research Associate, Pew Global Attitudes Project and Katie Holzwart, Research Analyst, Pew Global Attitudes Project

As Russian and Ukrainian leaders squabbled over gas supplies in late 2008 and early 2009, Eastern Europeans farther down the pipeline went without heat. European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso called the dispute “most unacceptable and incredible,” although it was clearly not unprecedented. In 2006, just as today, a price and payment dispute between Russia and Ukraine led to gas supplies being cut-off to Ukraine. Both Eastern and Western Europeans are vulnerable to these disputes because they rely heavily on Russian gas supplies, most of which are pumped through Ukraine. In fact, many Eastern European countries now rely on Russia for a majority of their gas supplies while about a quarter of Western European supplies are Russian exports.

Not surprisingly, the Pew Global Attitudes poll found that majorities in a number of Western and Eastern European nations were concerned about their country’s reliance on Russian energy. Moreover, worries about Russian energy dependence became more common between 2007 and 2008.

Just as public concern about energy dependence has become widespread, so too have unfavorable views of Russia and increasingly critical views of Russia’s current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. And surveys show a clear linkage between concern about energy dependence and unfavorable views of Russia.

Dependence on Russian Energy

Majorities in all Western European countries surveyed in 2008 except Spain said they were very or fairly concerned that their country had become too dependent on Russia for its energy resources: Roughly six-in-ten or more among British (67%), German (62%) and French (58%) publics expressed concern; the Spanish public was evenly split on this issue (46% concerned, 47% not concerned).

Concern grew a bit between 2007 and 2008 in several Western European publics; slightly more were worried in 2008 in Germany (62%), France (58%), and Spain (46%) than in 2007 (Germany 58%, France 53%, Spain 38%). British views have remained unchanged.

Similarly, in 2007 majorities in all Eastern European countries surveyed except Bulgaria said they were concerned about their country’s dependence on Russian energy resources: Three-quarters of Poles, roughly six-in-ten Ukrainians (63%) and Czechs (57%) and half of Slovaks (53%) expressed concern. Of the Eastern Europeans surveyed, Bulgarians were the least concerned about their dependence on Russian gas resources. Only a little over one-third (37%) in Bulgaria expressed concern, while a full half (53%) said they were not too/at all worried. Fewer Poles were worried in 2008 (66%) than in 2007 (75%).

European Views of Russia Largely Unfavorable

Pew Global Attitudes Project survey data show that negative views of Russia have been nearly as widespread as has concern over dependence on Russian natural gas. In fact, the polling revealed a connection between concern over energy dependence and unfavorable views of Russia.

The 2007 Pew survey found relatively negative opinions of Russia across much of Europe – albeit with a few exceptions.

More than half in Poland (58%) and the Czech Republic (54%) offered critical opinions of Russia. And ratings of Russia were even worse among Western European publics. Majorities in France (65%), Germany (62%), and Sweden (59%) expressed an unfavorable view of Russia.

Positive views were more the exception than the rule but they predominated in several Eastern European countries. Eight-in-ten Ukrainians expressed a favorable view of Russia. Similarly, Bulgarians (78%) and Slovaks (59%) held largely positive views of Russia in 2007.

Looking more closely at opinions, those who worried about dependence on its energy resources had more generally negative opinions of Russia. For instance, in the Czech Republic, 62% of those who said they were concerned about their country’s dependence on Russian energy had unfavorable views of Russia, while only 44% of those who were not concerned held such negative views. It is likely that the current gas crisis has the potential to further erode Russia’s image in Europe.

Europeans Lack Confidence in Putin

Pew Global Attitudes survey data has shown declining confidence in Putin, which may also be related to discontent with dependence on Russian energy resources.

Putin’s popularity decreased substantially between 2003 and 2007 across Europe as the energy dependence issue emerged. In fact, positive ratings of Putin were cut in half in several countries including Germany, France and Spain.

In 2008, solid majorities in France (82%), Spain (80%), Poland (78%), Germany (60%), and Great Britain (56%) said they have not much or no confidence in Putin to do the right thing in world affairs.

Between 2007 and 2008, European views of Putin fluctuated modestly. During that time, views remained basically steady in Spain and France, while they became slightly more positive in Germany and more negative in Britain.