In the aftermath of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year, global attitudes toward Russia’s leadership have shifted dramatically, with large majorities of the population in dozens of countries reporting disapproval of the Kremlin.
Data compiled from surveys of thousands of people in 137 countries and regions showed a marked decline in approval of the Kremlin, according to a report released by the Gallup organization on April 25. Globally, 57 percent of respondents reported that they disapprove of Russia’s leadership in 2022, up from just 38 percent the year before.
Only 21 percent of respondents said that they approve of Russia’s leadership, down from 33 percent in 2021. Both the approval and disapproval figures were the most extreme Gallup has measured since it began asking the question as part of its annual survey tracking attitudes toward global leaders in 2007.
“It’s incredible,” Zacc Ritter, a senior researcher with Gallup and the lead author of the report, told Voice of America (VOA). “I don’t think we’ve seen a shift like this before in Gallup’s data for any country.”
Negative shift everywhere
While peoples’ impression of Russia’s leadership varied across individual countries in the survey, the overarching result was a worsening of the public image of its leadership across the board.
The shift was most prominent in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the median approval rating fell by 21 percentage points, to 16 percent, while the median disapproval rating jumped by 30 points, to 61 percent.
Even in parts of Africa and Asia where Russian influence remains strong, the change was negative. In North Africa and the Middle East, disapproval rates rose by 12 points, to 55 percent. In sub-Saharan Africa, where Russia maintains active influence operations, disapproval rates still spiked from 21 percent to 32 percent, worsening even in countries whose leaders have refused to condemn the war.
Still, sub-Saharan Africa was the only region polled by Gallup in which the median approval rating of Russia’s leadership (35 percent) remained above the median disapproval rating.
The data collected by Gallup indicates significant regional differences in attitudes toward Russia’s leadership, with disapproval most concentrated in Europe, North America, Australia, South Korea, and Japan. Feelings toward Russia were more ambivalent in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Unsurprisingly, Ukraine registered the highest rate of disapproval, at 96 percent, followed closely by Poland, at 95 percent. The U.S., Canada and 10 different European countries registered disapproval ratings of 90 percent or above.
In Taiwan, the self-governing island claimed as a possession by China and itself under constant threat of invasion, the shift against Russia was large. In 2021, just 26 percent of Taiwanese surveyed expressed disapproval of Russia’s leadership. By 2022, that number had leapt to 72 percent.
Another outlier was Kazakhstan, the former Soviet republic on Russia’s eastern border. Normally a reliable ally of Moscow’s, Kazakhstan showed a major shift in attitude between 2021 and 2022. Approval of Russian leadership fell to 29 percent from 55 percent and disapproval jumped to 50 percent from just 20 percent.
Steven Pifer, a former senior U.S. State Department official who also served as ambassador to Ukraine, told VOA that it is no secret that Russia has seriously damaged its international standing, particularly in Europe.
“Certainly, when you look at how Europeans now look at Russia, I think it’s a much more negative image than was the case before this war began,” said Pifer, who is now an affiliate of Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. “Russian actions are so at odds with the fundamental principles that we thought had been the basis for European security… that now, when they talk about security in Europe, it’s not about security that involves Russia. It’s about security against Russia.”
On the broader global stage, he said, it will be difficult for most world leaders to engage meaningfully with senior Russian officials and hard to trust them on the occasions when engagement is possible.
“Start at the top. Vladimir Putin has been indicted for war crime. It’s really difficult to see how any Western leader can sit down with him at this point. There’s a reputational cost to doing that,” Pifer said.
He said the willingness of senior Russian diplomats to parrot obvious lies and distortions about the war that have been put forward by the Kremlin will make re-engagement all the more difficult.
“Russian diplomats who I used to have some respect for are just out there, basically saying the most bizarre things,” Pifer said. “That will come back to bite them. These guys have lost a lot of credibility, and it’s going to be hard to see how they get it back.”
Although its sample size makes the Gallup survey stand out, its findings echo those of a number of other major research firms that have explored the decline in Russia’s global standing, including the Pew Research Center and Ipsos.
In March, Brand Finance, the U.K.-based consultancy that issues an annual Global Soft Power index, reported that in the previous year, Russia was the only country to see its soft power decline over the previous year.
Soft power, which refers to a country’s ability to affect the behavior of other nations without resorting to force, derives from many things, including economic ties and cultural influences.
“While nations have turned to soft power to restore trade and tourism after a devastating health crisis, the world order has been disrupted by the hard power of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Brand Finance Chairman and CEO David Haigh said in a statement. “An event that would be hard to believe were it not for the intensity of the images we have been seeing for months and the consequences the conflict is having on politics and the economy alike.”