To what extent does Russia’s role in conflicts in Syria and Ukraine influence its image in the eyes of Germans? Which aspects provoke criticism in German public opinion? And which do not touch Germans at all? Are Germans “a nation of ‘Russland-Versteher’” – understanding and sympathizing with Russia – as has often been assumed by those in and out of the country who would see more outspoken opposition to Putin and his policies? Do Germans equate “Russia” and “the Russians,” or is there some kind of differentiation?
These questions brought German Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Polish Institute of Public Affairs, to develop and commission a poll which was conducted amongst a representative group of Germans above the age of 14 between March 4th and March 12th, 2016, using a face-to-face method.
The majority of Germans do not see Vladimir Putin’s Russia as a credible international partner for Germany (64%). The annexation of Crimea, Russian troops’ participation in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the suppression of political opposition at home are the likely causes for the declining credibility of the Russian President among the Germans. Russia’s military engagement in Syria might have also contributed to this negative view. However, a significant number of Germans continue to express a more positive view of Putin’s Russia (28%).
The negative view of cooperation with Russia is likewise noticeable in at least one specific area of economic cooperation. The majority of German society (55%) have a negative view of the fact that German energy is strongly tied to Russia. At the same time, a significant share (39%) of respondents are of the opposite view; they believe the energy ties to be a positive development. The relatively low number of respondents who had no opinion (6%) demonstrates that Germans have an established view on the subject of Germany’s energy policy, at least insofar as Russia is concerned.
German opinion has not changed very much over the past year. This year, just as last year, the dominant group favors maintaining sanctions (44% in 2015 and 46% in 2016). Some changes have taken place in terms of those who favor “strengthening sanctions” – the percentage of support fell from 23 to 16%. Conversely, the percentage of those who favor “softening sanctions” rose from 23% to 27%.
As a member of NATO and the EU, Germany is obliged – just as other allies – to defend its allies in the case of aggression on the part of an outside nation. Despite this obligation, over half of Germans do not support sending their soldiers to defend NATO members such as Poland or the Baltic states if ever they were attacked by Russia (57%). Only one out of three Germans (31%) believes that if one of those countries were attacked, Germany should fulfill its obligations as a NATO and EU member and stand in defense of the country that was attacked.
In contrast to the negative views of the Russian government’s policies, Germans hold mostly positive opinions about the place of Russians in German society. Most of the respondents have nothing against the prospect of Russians working alongside them, permanently settling in Germany, or being their neighbors. The acceptance for Russians as co-workers, neighbors or residents is, respectively, 69%, 65% and 61%. Russians are less popular in social roles such as friends (45%), bosses (39%), and son/daughter-in-law (35%), all roles which are more personal and indicate greater fraternity and dependence. There are no differences between the views of western and eastern Germans. Compared to 2013, the level of acceptance has grown by a small amount.
belsat.eu, following bertelsmann-stiftung.de