- Greeks more approving of Russia's leadership than EU's, Germany's
- Still, three in 10 Greeks have no opinion of Russia's leadership
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the early days after the Syriza party's sweeping victory in Greece, many are watching whether this new government will pivot toward Russia or the EU. Representatives of the Syriza party, including new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, appear friendlier toward Russia's leadership, as are Greeks in general. More than one in three Greeks (35%) in 2014 approved of Russia's leadership, while fewer than one in four (23%) approved of the EU's leadership.
Greeks' higher approval ratings may reflect the cultural, religious and economic ties that Greece has enjoyed for years with Russia, one of the country's major trading partners. But they also echo Greeks' strong displeasure with the EU's leadership, which they are more likely to have an opinion about than Russia's. Nearly as many Greeks have no opinion of Russia's leadership (30%) as approve (35%) or disapprove (35%).
It was a huge blow to the already fragile Greek economy last year when Russia banned EU food imports in response to Western sanctions. Greek agricultural exports to Russia make up 41% of all Greek exports to Russia, worth approximately 200 million euros annually. Before this ban was put in place in August last year, three in four Greeks thought the national economy was getting worse.
Among Greeks who saw their economy as getting worse, twice as many residents approved of Russia's leadership (37%) as approved of the EU's leadership (18%). Russia's leadership also fared better than Germany's leadership (26%) by more than 10 percentage points.
Greek approval of Russia's leadership differed little among the 10% of Greeks who thought the national economy was getting better. However, this small optimistic group is more approving of the leadership of the EU and Germany compared with their pessimistic counterparts.
The newly elected government dominated by the left-wing Syriza party came to power on the promise of pulling Greece out of economic dismay. It might be reluctant to join its fellow EU members and hold a tough stand against Russia at the risk of worsening its own economy. In fact, Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis has said Athens was against sanctions and "had no differences with Russia."
But despite these initial strong statements denouncing sanctions, Greece joined other EU countries Thursday in extending them against Russia for another six months and in expanding the list of sanctioned individuals. It is uncertain how the new Greek government will affect EU foreign policy in the longer term. However, it is clear that once again Greece, a country with 11 million people, has become the focal point of Europe. This time, it is drawing attention not only for its economy, but also for its foreign policy.
Julie Ray contributed to this report.
Results are based on face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 Greeks, aged 15 and older, conducted between June 20 and July 28, 2014. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3.5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.