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Russia's Leadership Not Highly Popular Before Ukraine War

Russia's Leadership Not Highly Popular Before Ukraine War


Story Highlights

  • A global median of 33% approved of Russia's leadership in 2021
  • Approval was highest in Mali, at 84%
  • Fewer than one in 10 Danes, Swedes and Lithuanians approved, pre-invasion

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Before Russia's invasion of Ukraine this year, Russia's leadership remained relatively unpopular in most parts of the world, with a global median approval rating of 33% in 2021.

As unimpressive as this current rating seems, it's still a marked improvement from the 22% median approval rating in 2014, notably the last time Russia invaded Ukraine and ended up annexing Crimea. After Crimea, Russia's global reputation slowly started to improve, reaching as high as 34% in 2020.

These data come from Gallup surveys conducted in 116 countries and territories between April 2021 and January 2022. While these data were collected before Russia's invasion of Ukraine this year, they illustrate how Russia's leadership was positioned in the world as the conflict began.

Russia's Leadership Most Popular in Africa; Fewer Fans in Europe

Russia's leadership finds the most favor regionally in Africa, where a median 42% of the population approved in 2021.

African adults generally tend to rate the leadership of all major powers (the U.S., China, Russia and Germany) higher than adults in other regions do. However, among those countries, African adults were less likely to approve of Russia's leadership (42%) than those of the U.S. (60%), China (52%) or Germany (49%).

Russian leaders have attempted to reach out diplomatically and economically to Africa in recent years. However, their current 42% approval in Africa remains in the middle of the trend for the region and well below the 57% high in 2011.


Median approval of Russia's leadership -- not surprisingly, given the current and past contentious relationship -- was the lowest in Europe, at 22%, among all geographic regions. This is on the higher end of the trend and well above the 14% low in 2014.

Many of these countries belong to NATO, among which median approval of Russia's leadership was similar to the European average, at 21%. Among most NATO member countries, approval in 2021 had recovered somewhat from record lows after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. Median disapproval among NATO countries jumped from 44% in 2013 to 67% in 2014 but had declined to 57% by 2021.


Highest and Lowest Approval of Russia's Leadership

Given that Africa had the highest regional median approval of Russia's leadership, it is not surprising that many countries that give Russia's leadership the highest approval are located in this region. Malians were the most likely of any population to approve in 2021, with 84% of adults in that country saying so.

Countries in Russia's sphere also made the most-approving list -- as they typically do -- with 76% of Kyrgyzstanis, 73% of Mongolians, 69% of Uzbekistanis and 55% of Kazakhstanis approving of Russia's leadership. Traditional Russian ally Serbia was also among the countries with the highest approval levels, at 68%.


In contrast, Russia's nearby European neighbors in Sweden, Denmark and Lithuania were the least likely to approve of Russia's leadership, with fewer than one in 10 doing so.

Ukraine is also not far from the bottom of the list. Before the invasion, 12% of Ukrainians approved of Russia's leadership.


Bottom Line

Before the war in Ukraine, approval of Russia's leadership had largely recovered from the slump that occurred after the country's annexation of Crimea. However, it is likely that much, if not all, of that has been erased in the aftermath of Russia's invasion this year. The low level of approval for Russia's leadership likely eased the way for world leaders to take action to isolate the country from the global economy in the wake of the invasion.

The high levels of disapproval in Europe in particular may have helped make post-invasion sanctions on Russia more palatable for the publics in these countries, despite many European countries' dependence on Russian energy resources.

For other regions around the globe, especially Asia and Africa, higher approval levels for Russia's leadership and the impact on commodities markets because of the war in Ukraine and Russian sanctions may make isolating Russia a tougher sell with the public.

Read Gallup's latest Rating World Leaders report to see how the leadership of Russia, the U.S., Germany and China compare worldwide.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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