July 9, 2014

Russia’s Global Image Negative amid Crisis in Ukraine

Americans’ and Europeans’ Views Sour Dramatically

Unfavorable Views of Russia on the RiseAs the European Union considers further sanctions on Russia for its role in the standoff in Ukraine, Russia is broadly unpopular in many countries around the globe and increasingly disliked in Europe and the United States. President Vladimir Putin’s leadership also continues to inspire little confidence worldwide, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The former Cold War power’s negative global image contradicts Russians’ expectations that Putin’s actions in Ukraine would improve their country’s international reputation.1

And while Putin expresses concerns about Russian minorities’ rights in Ukraine, the world gives Moscow poor marks on its record of respecting its own citizens’ personal freedoms.

These are among the key findings of a survey by the Pew Research Center conducted from March 17 to June 5, 2014 among 48,643 respondents in 44 countries, including Russia. Nearly all interviews were conducted after Putin’s statement on March 18th that Russia would annex Crimea. A majority of interviews in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom were completed within a week of the announcement.

Russia Increasingly Unpopular

Europeans, Americans More Negative toward RussiaAcross the 44 countries surveyed, a median percentage of 43% have unfavorable opinions of Russia, compared with 34% who are positive.

Negative ratings of Russia have increased significantly since 2013 in 20 of the 36 countries surveyed in both years, decreased in six and stayed relatively similar in the remaining 10.

Americans and Europeans in particular have soured on Russia over the past 12 months. More than six-in-ten in Poland, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, the U.S. and the UK have an unfavorable image of Russia. And in all but one of these countries negative reviews are up by double digits since last year, including by 29 percentage points in the U.S., 27 points in Poland, 24 points in the UK and 23 points in Spain. Greeks stand out among their European counterparts – just 35% dislike Russia, virtually unchanged from last year.

Ukrainians’ attitudes toward Russia also have changed significantly over time. Six-in-ten in Ukraine rate Russia unfavorably today, compared with just 11% in 2011, the last time the question was asked. Within Ukraine, there are deep divides by region and language. More than eight-in-ten in the country’s west (83%) give Russia low marks, compared with 45% in the east and only 4% in Crimea. Within the east, Russian-only speakers (28%) are less negative toward Russia than their neighbors (58%).2

As has been the case in previous years, Russia is also unpopular with publics in the Middle East. More than half in most countries surveyed in the region have an unfavorable opinion of Russia, including seven-in-ten or more Jordanians, Turks and Egyptians. The Palestinians and Tunisians are less negative. In Lebanon, attitudes vary significantly by religious group. Majorities of Sunni Muslims (80%) and Christians (63%) give Russia unfavorable ratings, compared with just 12% of Shia Muslims.

Russia is increasingly disliked in many Latin American countries, though the change has not been as dramatic as in the U.S. and Europe. And while, on balance, most publics hold negative views of Russia, substantial percentages have no opinion. More than four-in-ten in Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Mexico give Russia unfavorable ratings. Significant increases in Russia’s unpopularity since last year occurred in Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador and Mexico.

In Asia, there are deep divisions between nations over their opinions of Russia. Roughly seven-in-ten in Japan (69%) rate Russia unfavorably compared with a quarter or fewer in China (23%) and Vietnam (14%). China is one of the few countries where negative reviews have declined substantially in the past year (-16 percentage points).

African nations remain the least likely among the regions surveyed to rate Russia unfavorably. In fact, pluralities in most countries, with South Africa being the major exception, give Russia high marks, though many people do not express an opinion either way.

Little Confidence in Putin

Confidence in Putin Low WorldwideMajorities or pluralities in 25 of the 44 countries surveyed say they lack confidence in Putin to do the right thing in world affairs.

As with opinions on Russia generally, attitudes toward Putin are more uniformly negative in the U.S. and Europe. Eight-in-ten Americans say they have not too much or no confidence at all in the Russian leader, and majorities in every country surveyed in Europe agree.

More than seven-in-ten Ukrainians also express disappointment with Putin. Broad majorities of Ukrainians in the west (89%) and the east (66%) express no confidence in Russia’s president, while just 5% of residents of Crimea say the same. About half of Russian-only speakers (51%) in the east lack confidence in Putin’s foreign policy compared with 43% who say they trust him.

Majorities or pluralities in most nations surveyed in the Middle East and Latin America also give Putin a failing grade on foreign policy. And six-in-ten or more of Japanese and South Koreans do the same.

Negative opinions of Putin in the U.S. rose 26 percentage points since the last time Pew Research asked the question in 2012 (54%). Negative ratings for Putin have also increased by double-digits over the past two years in Poland (+12 percentage points) and Brazil (+13). In Ukraine, lack of confidence has jumped 40 points since the question was last asked in 2007.

Vietnam (69%), China (62%), Bangladesh (61%), Tanzania (52%) and Kenya (50%) are the only countries besides Russia where at least half of the public has confidence in Putin’s handling of international affairs. In Russia, 83% trust their leader’s foreign policy, up from 69% in 2012. Significant percentages in the remaining countries do not express an opinion about the Russian president.

Moscow Seen as Not Protecting Civil Liberties

Lack of Respect for Personal FreedomsMajorities or pluralities in 16 of the 44 countries surveyed say the Russian government does not respect the personal freedoms of its people. In many of the remaining countries, large percentages have no opinion on this question.

Americans and Europeans have a particularly negative image of Moscow’s record on civil liberties. Roughly three-quarters or more in Germany, France, the U.S., Poland, Spain, the UK and Italy think Russia does not respect personal freedoms. This view has increased dramatically since the previous time Pew Research asked the question in 2008 in the U.S. (+22 points), Spain (+16) and the UK (+12).

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese (76% say Russia respects personal freedoms) and the Chinese (63%) give Moscow its highest marks on civil liberties. A majority of Russians (57%) do the same – a significant shift from 2008, when the public was divided (45% does respect personal freedoms, 44% does not).

  1. We asked Russians “In your opinion, has President Putin’s handling of the situation in Ukraine led people in other countries to have a more favorable opinion of Russia, a less favorable opinion, or has it made no difference?” More than four-in-ten (43%) said more favorable, 26% said less favorable and 22% said no difference. For more on Russians’ and Ukrainians’ views of the situation in Ukraine, see "Despite Concerns about Governance, Ukrainians Want to Remain One Country. May 8, 2014."
  2. For purposes of this report, the results in Ukraine are analyzed by three regions: The west, which includes the central region around Kyiv, as well as portions of the country that border Poland, Slovakia and Hungary; the east, which includes areas along the Black Sea and the border with Russia; and the territory of Crimea. “Russian-only speakers” in Ukraine are those who say they usually speak Russian at home and then mention no other languages spoken at home or during the day.