Lord Ashcroft: My new polling from Eastern Europe shows both Ukraine and Russia optimistic about victory

28 Jun

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. For information on Lord Ashcroft’s work, visit www.lordashcroft.com.

Below is the text of my presentation to the International Democrat Union Forum in Berlin: Regional Views on the War in Ukraine

Over the last three weeks I have conducted polls in both Ukraine and Russia, along with 11 other countries in the region: Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Georgia.

Let’s start with the conflict itself. In Ukraine, people are digging in for a long war. More than two in three Ukrainians expect the conflict to last at least another four months – more than in any other country we surveyed. A quarter expect it to be going on more than a year from now.

At the same time, they seem undaunted. 60% of Ukrainians told us they were more confident of defeating the Russian invasion now than they were when the conflict started. This compares with just 37% of Russians who say they are more confident that the “special military operation” will be a success than they were when it began.

In both Ukraine and the neighbouring countries, we asked whether various states and institutions were doing enough to help. The general response was that people thought their own country was doing terribly well.

Figures were much less good for NATO. Though it’s hard to define its role given the limited appetite for military involvement, which we will come to later, fewer than half of respondents in most countries thought NATO was doing enough. Figures were slightly better for the European Union.

When we asked the same question of Ukrainians themselves, the picture was stark. Fewer than one in four thought France or Germany was doing enough, one in 3 said the same of NATO and just over 4 in 10 were satisfied with the EU. The United States was thought to be doing better, and top of the list, I’m pleased to say, was the UK. I’m told it really is true that Ukrainian soldiers shout “God save the Queen” when firing their British anti-tank weapons.

Accordingly, President Biden is more highly regarded than President Macron or Chancellor Scholz, and we have the rather extraordinary finding that Boris Johnson is nearly as popular as President Zelensky himself. Which leads to the idle thought that if Boris is to face another confidence vote, he should ask that it be held in Kyiv rather than Westminster.

We asked Ukrainians in more detail about their perspective. More than two thirds said they would feel safer if they knew their country had nuclear weapons, and more than 8 in 10 said they would like Ukraine to join NATO. A sign of their determination is that only 12% said they would leave the country tomorrow if they could. Remarkably, more than half said there was more that united ethnic Russians with other Ukrainians than divided them – though this was down from two thirds compared to my earlier survey three months ago.

In the neighbouring states, we asked how willing or otherwise people would be to help in various ways. Few objected to the idea of sending aid, such as medical supplies, but other measures were more controversial. In Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Finland, around two thirds were prepared to impose further economic sanctions on Russia even if this had an impact in their own country. This compared to around 3 in 10 in Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary, and only 12% in Serbia. 79% of Lithuanians would be prepared to accept large numbers of Ukrainian refugees, compared to 34% of Slovakians. And while more than three quarters of Lithuanians and Poles were willing to provide weapons and ammunition to Ukrainian forces, only 23% of Hungarians and Moldovans, and 6% of Serbs said the same. Support for direct military intervention was lower across the board, though Lithuanians were once again the most willing: 43% of them said they would be prepared to send troops to fight alongside Ukrainian forces.

We saw a similar divergence of opinion on other issues. Clear majorities in most countries thought Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO if it so wished – the exceptions being Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia. Most populations thought sanctions against Russia were justified – though people in Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary were ambivalent, and most Serbs were opposed.

Perhaps surprisingly, a fair proportion of respondents – and a majority in some countries – agreed that Russia would be justified in seeing the expansion of NATO as a threat to its security.

In the NATO countries we surveyed, we also asked whether a no-fly zone should be imposed over Ukraine, even if that meant forces from their home country shooting down Russian military aircraft. In Poland and the Baltic states, not far off half of respondents said they approved of the idea – though again support was much lower in Slovakia and Hungary.

In most countries, overwhelming majorities said they thought no part of Ukraine was rightfully part of Russia, but again there were exceptions. Nearly one fifth of Slovaks, 3 in 10 Hungarians, one third of Moldovans and 41% of Serbs think Russia has a legitimate claim to Ukrainian territory.

By the same token, there was scant support for any of Putin’s scenarios for ending the conflict. Poland and the Baltics were particularly opposed both to official recognition of Crimea as part of Russia, and to NATO scaling back its troops and weapons in countries bordering Russia. There was little support for a ban on Ukraine joining NATO. But in Serbia, a majority found all three proposals acceptable, and there was substantial support for these compromises in Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary.

Evidently feeling that they have no option but to fight, Ukrainians were the most likely to believe that the conflict would only be ended by the military defeat of one side by the other. The Baltic states were the only other places to think a military solution was the more likely outcome. Everywhere else, including Russia, people were more likely to think the war would end through diplomacy.

Another striking finding was that barely half of respondents across the board believed the military conflict would remain between Ukraine and Russia. Around one third – and nearly half of Ukrainians and Poles – thought it would either spread to other countries in the region or develop into another world war.

Not at all surprisingly, some populations in the region saw Russia as a serious threat to their own country. This was especially true in Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland. People in Moldova, Hungary and Slovakia were less convinced, while a majority of Serbs said Russia was not a threat at all.

Equally notable was that while our Scandinavians and respondents in Moldova, Slovakia and Hungary tended to think that any threat was mostly down to Putin, those in Poland, the Baltics, Georgia and – especially – Ukraine were more likely to believe that Russia would continue to be a danger to its neighbours even after Putin had left the scene.

That being the case, clear majorities in Georgia, Finland and Sweden said they would like to see their countries join NATO – though the answer from Moldova and Serbia was a resounding “no thank you”.

We also looked in more detail at opinion within Russia itself. Externally, we found people believing that most Russians support Putin, or are at least evenly divided. In the countries we surveyed, few believed that a majority of Russians opposed the Putin regime.

From our own evidence, they’re right about that. We found 85% of Russians saying they had a favourable view of the president, a result unchanged from my survey in March. (In other words, Putin is nearly as popular in Russia as Boris is in Ukraine). The very positive view of China is also worth noting.

Polling in Russia comes with the obvious caveats that the regime effectively controls what Russians see and hear on the news, and that people might be cautious in talking about their views to a stranger. Nevertheless, the research from other sources is fairly consistent, and shows little change since before the clampdown that followed the invasion.

It is also instructive to note the different responses from different groups. For example, those aged under 25 – while almost as favourable towards Putin – were more than twice as likely as Russians as a whole to have a positive view of NATO, the EU, and the western countries we asked about.

We found three quarters of Russians saying they supported the “special military operation” in Ukraine – a figure unchanged overall since my survey in March, except that there had been a slight shift from strongly supporting to only somewhat supporting the invasion. Again, notably, fewer than half of 18 to 24-year-olds said they supported the invasion, compared to 84% of those aged over 55.

Asked who they thought was to blame for the current conflict, Russians were most likely to name Ukraine, followed closely by the US and NATO. Only a minority said they thought Russia itself had any responsibility.

91% told us they thought Crimea was rightfully part of Russia, a figure unchanged since March. Three quarters of Russians said they felt Donetsk and Luhansk were also part of their country – both of these figures have edged up by a few points since we asked the question three months ago.

Further questions showed how far Russians support the Putin narrative. More than three quarters agreed that military action in Ukraine was necessary to protect the security of Russia, and that the expansion of NATO is a threat to Russia’s security and sovereignty. Fewer than 3 in 10 see President Zelensky’s government as the legitimate authority of Ukraine.

While those under 25 were as likely as others to see NATO expansion as a threat, only just over half agreed that military action in Ukraine was necessary to protect Russia’s security.

Support for the invasion remains strong even though half of Russians told us economic sanctions had started to affect them or people they know.

In fact, when we asked the question a different way, we found two thirds of Russians saying they supported the invasion despite the sanctions, and 15% saying they would oppose it whether there were sanctions or not. Only 1 in 10 said they would support the special military operation, but the sanctions meant the cost was too high and the action should end.

Looking at their wider view, we find 86% saying they trust Russia’s current leadership to make the right decisions for the country, and 79% saying they believe Putin has the best interests of ordinary Russians at heart. While 4 in 10 say they think Russia’s international reputation has been damaged in recent years, that figure has actually fallen by 5 points since the invasion. More than 8 in 10 say they think Russia will emerge from the current conflict stronger than it was before – though more than half also admit that Ukraine seems to be resisting Russian forces more strongly than they would have expected. Once again, if you have the chance to study the detailed figures later, you will see that the youngest Russians took a more sceptical view of the Kremlin line than their older counterparts.

Finally, a finding which I must admit took me slightly by surprise. We asked which was more important – ensuring the media are free to report without restrictions, or ensuring people are not exposed to misinformation. I expected the Russians to choose the second option and endorse Putin’s control of the media. When we found an identical result in Ukraine, I reasoned that they would want to prevent the spread of enemy propaganda in wartime. What I did not expect was to find the pattern repeated throughout the region. In fact, of all the countries we surveyed, Georgia was the only one where people said media freedom was the more important priority. We can debate what this means and what the implications are, but I certainly found that a striking result in the current climate.

Overall, then we see that opinion in the region is far from monolithic – with variations probably explained by each country’s historic ties and loyalties, demographics, and current political and commercial realities. We see Russians still largely in support of their leader and his policies. And we see Ukrainians determined and optimistic, digging in for a long war, and with a clear view of who is helping and who isn’t – together with a widespread expectation that the conflict could spread beyond its current borders.

Full data from the 13-country survey are available at LordAshcroftPolls.com

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Russia and the war. 1) Its aims

15 Mar

Bob Seely a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and is MP for the Isle of Wight.  He has written a definition of new Russian warfare and a study of Kremlin activity in eastern Ukraine.

What are Vladimir Putin’s aims? In a sentence: to prevent Ukraine, in his eyes, falling into the hands of the West, to break Western unity, to build a new sphere of influence and, in Russia, to present the West as a decadent, mortal enemy of the Russian people.

Putin’s infamous essay last summer on Russian and Ukrainian unity revealed that he did not recognise Ukraine within its current borders. His speech a fortnight ago on the eve of the invasion showed that, although Ukraine was the battleground, the West, its values and its ‘Nazi puppets’ in Ukraine were all protagonists.

Ukraine represents the nexus of Putin’s fears. A law-governed democracy in Kiev, however imperfect, threatens Moscow’s autocracy. Russia without Ukraine becomes a country, not an empire. A Ukraine outside Kremlin control feeds Russian insecurity, although the fear of ‘invasion’ is now largely psychological.

The battle to ‘re-recapture’ Ukraine has been ongoing for nearly two decades and in three distinct phases.

From 2004 to 2014, the Kremlin used political, economic, information and other non-military tools to subvert Ukraine’s political and military leadership. it’s aim then was to persuade Ukraine’s leaders to reject EU association treaties and sign instead binding military and economic pacts with Russia. These would have secured Ukraine within Russia’s sphere of interest. This narrowly failed, due to the ‘Maidan’ uprising with overthrew the heavily pro-Moscow and exceptionally corrupt government of Victor Yanukovych.

From 2014, the Kremlin used the ‘managed conflict’ model to create conflict in the east and south of Ukraine, as well as annexing Ukraine. This model was a more sophisticated version of the form of conflict used in Georgia and Moldova which I witnessed as a young reporter during the early 1990s.

Political front groups were formed, protestors took to the streets, lethal provocations were staged and armed paramilitary groups suddenly appeared, in reality pre-prepared for months by the Russian security agencies. Most of Ukraine’s 2014 uprisings: in Odesa, Kherson, Kharkiv and elsewhere, failed. Groups in Lugansk and Donetsk succeeded, setting up so-called Peoples’ Republics, controlled by Russian forces out of uniform and run out of the Kremlin.

The political outcome Putin wanted at this stage was to force these ‘Peoples’ Republics’ back into a deeply federalised Ukraine and ensure they were given a veto over domestic and foreign policy. This would be used as an anchor to prevent Ukraine’s westward drift and eventually, a return to Moscow’s sphere of influence. The threat of war would be ever-present.

Now, Putin has launched the third stage of conflict. Having failed to regain control of Ukraine in the first two phases of war, he has now escalated further to rely on largely conventional means, seeing to remove the Ukraine government in the hope/expectation that a puppet regime, similar to the Yanukovych regime of a decade ago, will be able to survive and deliver Ukraine. The likely result would be perpetual civil strife, combined with repression and mass refugee flows.

Effectively the Kremlin is trying to turn back the clock 30 years. It is difficult to see how Putin can either win the war or keep control of Ukraine should he do so. He has proved the maxim; you can control when you start a war, but not when you finish it.

Ranil Jayawardena: The trade deals keep coming. And today, as the new EU agreement takes effect, we look forward to more.

1 Jan

Ranil Jayawardena is Minister for International Trade, and is MP for North East Hampshire.

In 2019, I voted against Theresa May’s deal three times. Not because I wanted to leave the EU with No Deal, but because I believed we deserved better. This was the view of the British people too and, as Boris Johnson, David Frost and their team have proven, a better deal was possible. It is this deal – in force from today – that unleashes Britain’s potential, at home and around the world.

We are no longer restricted by the EU and can demonstrate our true potential on the world stage. In the last few weeks, I am delighted that we have secured trade deals with our good friends in Kenya, Vietnam, Singapore, and many more. Just this week, we signed a trade agreement with Turkey, a major win for British automotive, manufacturing and steel industries. These deals are only the tip of the iceberg in our mission to establish a truly Global Britain, leading from the front and championing free and fair trade.

In just two years, the United Kingdom has agreed trade deals with 63 countries outside the EU, from Japan and South Korea to Moldova and Mexico. This in itself is an unprecedented achievement, as no other country has ever negotiated so many trade deals simultaneously.

We’ve secured preferential trading terms for some £217 billion in non-EU bilateral trade, including the deal we signed with Japan – negotiated in record time and virtually – which guarantees better provisions for our world-leading services, digital and data sectors.

Britain is – once again – an independent trading nation, free to look beyond the horizon and seize the opportunities out there. It is through trade that she can build ever stronger partnerships around the world that not only generate economic value but, importantly, support our values – protecting our natural environment, defending democracy, and helping to transform the lives of people less fortunate around the world for the better.

We have now secured 97 per cent of the trade value that we set out to reach agreements for first, beyond the EU. And there’s more to come. Trade talks – as will now be apparent to all – often go down to the wire.

Laying the foundations for ambitious new trade deals

These agreements provide a strong foundation for our future trading relationships as we look to strengthen further trade ties globally through negotiating new and ambitious free trade agreements. By working together with forward-looking, like-minded nations, we will secure ambitious trade deals that benefit great British businesses, keep consumers in mind, and drive economic growth globally.

Our United Kingdom-Canada continuity trade deal signed this month slays the foundations – and secured commitment – to begin negotiating a bespoke British deal this year.

And our United Kingdom-Mexico deal enshrines our commitment to start negotiating a new trade deal with our Mexican friends too, which will secure even more benefits for British industry, and go further in areas of mutual interest such as data, digital trade, services and intellectual property.

That’s in addition to our ongoing negotiations with United States, Australia and New Zealand.

And our deal with Kenya, delivers long-term certainty, and preferential conditions, for businesses in both countries, benefitting consumers and investors, and supporting economic development. The deal has been constructed in such a way that other countries in East Africa will be able to join it and benefit their own people whenever they are ready.

Many of these deals and negotiations are significant steps towards Britain’s accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) too, to which we aim to apply for formal accession in early 2021.

Joining the CPTPP would put Britain at the heart of an increasingly influential trade network of 11 dynamic economies in the Asia-Pacific region that already accounts for 13 per cent of global GDP and would rise to 16 per cent with our accession. This is a trade network that doesn’t tell countries how to govern themselves nor how they can trade with their friends – but it does help remove tariffs on 95 per cent of goods.

All of this is ultimately good news for great British manufacturers, producers and exporters, supporting jobs in every corner of the United Kingdom. But it is not just our businesses that will benefit. British consumers will be able to continue to enjoy cheaper household goods on supermarket shelves from Chilean Wine to Kenyan Tea.

We have secured all this against the odds and facing unprecedented challenges.

The deals we’ve done are just the beginning, but they do set out clearly our ambition as a free trading nation to champion British interests and push for ambitious and forward-thinking trade partnerships. And that’s why I have been getting into the detail with our friends in India and the subcontinent, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and Mercosur.

Our future trading relationships, over the next few years, will be based on strong relationships and will be all about the detail.

Global Britain in the years ahead

Having served as the Conservative Party’s Deputy Chairman – and Vice-Chairman previously, with responsibility for policy – I enjoyed meeting Party members, listening to Parliamentarians, and working with the Cabinet and advisers in devising our manifesto ahead of the General Election, then campaigning on it on the doorsteps of constituencies across the country.

One of its clear promises was to secure free trade deals with countries that cover 80 per cent of our trade within three years – and it is good news that we are well on our way. All the folks at the Department for International Trade have been working flat out to strike the trade deals we have.

But it is clear that, now more than ever, we must also look to new markets, to help diversify our trade routes and supply chains in regions like Latin America, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific.

As Britain lifts her eyes for the first time in almost 50 years, our guiding principle over the next few years will remain the same; we will negotiate new trade deals that champion the interests of British businesses and the British people.

Global Britain is here, and is ready to show the world her true potential once again.