With Russia escalating its military involvement in eastern Ukraine to its highest levels yet, reportedly sending as many as 1,200 troops plus 30 tanks across the border to bolster its separatist rebel proxies, it's worth looking at one way that Russia has paid for its Ukraine aggression: global opinion toward Russia is plummeting.
You can see how rapidly world opinion is turning against Moscow in this map from Pew's recent report on attitudes toward Russia.
The map shows the proportion of people in every surveyed country who say they hold a favorable view of Russia, as of early July. Red means fewer than half hold a favorable opinion, purple means about half, and blue means more than half.
As you can see, Russia is extremely unpopular in most of the world. That's most true in Europe, where its favorability rating is typically somewhere in the teens, but it's also very true in Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. There are some major implications in this map for Russia, its place in the world, and the long-term consequences of its involvement in Ukraine.
Europeans are increasingly hostile toward Russia — as is almost everyone else
Russia is most unpopular in Poland, which, as a long-suffering Soviet puppet state, is exceptionally alarmed about Russia's recent invasion of Crimea and its sponsorship of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. In Poland, only 12 percent say they have a favorable view of Russia, with 81 percent holding an unfavorable view. The rates are not much higher in the rest of Europe, which is part of why European leaders are becoming much more willing to impose tough sanctions on Russia, even at some cost to European economies.
But Russia is also deeply unpopular in the Middle East. This is most true in Turkey, where only 16 percent hold a favorable view of the country, with 73 percent holding an unfavorable view. This may be a result of Russia's sponsorship of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, who has been able to get away with slaughtering thousands of civilians in that country's civil war in part because Moscow shields him from international action.
Russia is not universally reviled. It has an astounding 75 percent approval rating in Vietnam, which may be in large part due to Russia's long-standing support for the Vietnamese communist government against the country's historical enemy, China. Russian support for Vietnam as a balance against China has been rising in recent years as well. China and Greece also report mostly favorable views toward Russia (66 and 61 percent), perhaps because they see Moscow as challenging the West, which is viewed with deep distrust in both countries.
The highest pro-Russia approval rating in Europe, outside of Greece, is actually Ukraine itself: 35 percent approval. This might seem bizarre, given that Russia is loathed globally for invading and annexing Ukraine, but remember that a source of the crisis from the beginning has been a political split between Ukraine's Europe-leaning western half and an eastern half that has more Russian speakers, more ethnic Russians, and a fonder memory of joint Ukraine-Russian history. Those eastern Ukrainians still exist, and some of them apparently approve of Russia's actions.
Russia has always been generally unpopular, but it's getting much worse
Russia's global unpopularity is not new, but that unpopularity has been on the rise since the Ukraine crisis began late in 2013, and it has been rising very rapidly. To see how quickly this has happened, above is a map showing the result of the same Pew poll one year earlier, in July 2013.
There's still plenty of red, but you may notice that the red is much lighter. Just one year ago when this poll was taken, Russia's favorability ratings in Europe were about twice what they are now: Poland dropped from 36 to 12 percent favorable toward Russia, Germany from 32 to 19, and Spain from 38 to 18. In the US, it plummeted from 37 to 19 percent.
Public opinion toward Russia soured in almost every country surveyed, across Asia, Latin America, and Africa. But it rose significantly in China, from 49 to 66 percent, again perhaps because of support for Russia's anti-Western confrontationalism. It also ticked up in Israel and the Palestinian territories, perhaps as a reaction against the US for brokering the failed and widely unpopular peace talks, as well as in India and the Philippines.
This is a major problem for Putin
These polls bear out, as President Obama has long argued, that Russia's role in the Ukraine crisis will eventually come back to hurt it, that Russian President Vladimir Putin will hang himself by his own rope. The more Russia imposes itself in Ukraine, the weaker it becomes everywhere else in the world.
The most direct cause of that is sanctions: European sanctions, which have gotten a good deal tougher since this poll was taken, are starting to really damage the Russian economy. Putin for years premised his rule, which has long been authoritarian, on delivering solid economic growth. Now that that growth is gone, he's using Ukraine to churn up nationalism instead; you see it working in this poll, which shows that Russians' views of their own country have gone from 83 percent favorable to 92 percent.
But Putin can only nibble away at Ukraine for so long. At some point, as the Ukrainian military pushes harder to finally defeat the pro-Russia rebels, Moscow will either get sucked into a full-blown quagmire or will quietly withdraw. Either way, the crisis will end, the nationalistic rallies will wind down in Russia, and Russians will wake up to realize that they've become poorer, internationally isolated, and even weaker than they were in the disastrous 1990s.
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