Although the public in Europe generally demonizes Putin and sympathizes with Ukraine, it understands its interests are tied to Russia.
In Hungary’s national elections earlier this month, Viktor Orbán’s Russia-friendly Fidesz party crushed his opponents, taking two-thirds of the seats to win a fourth consecutive term. The landslide took everyone by surprise, given that six opposition parties had united to make the election largely about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Orbán’s refusal to take a hard-line against Putin. Orbán’s victory speech listed the defeat of the “overwhelming force” arrayed against him, which included “the left wing at home,” “the international left wing,” “Brussels bureaucrats,” “the Soros empire with all its money,” and, not least, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
In Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic’s right-wing, pro-Russia Serbian Progressive Party also won reelection by a landslide early this month, although in less of a surprise. Most of Vucic’s opponents are also pro-Russian, as is the general population. In a 2021 survey, 83 percent of Serbians characterized Russia as a “friend,” and at least a dozen Serbian cities awarded Putin honorary citizenship.
In France, where the presidency will be decided in a vote this Sunday, incumbent Emmanuel Macron and rival Marine Le Pen agree on almost nothing. The main exception: their historic regard for Putin and their desire to bring Russia into the European fold.
Macron, who laid out the red carpet for Putin two weeks after he was sworn in as France’s president in 2017, and met with him dozens of times since, has long argued that France and “this great power that is Russia” should build, together, “a new security architecture for our Europe.” Le Pen, an unabashed admirer of Putin, this week endorsed Macron’s vision for Russia as a European power, agreeing with the importance of Russia to France and the EU on security grounds.
“Imagine we do nothing to prevent a situation in which the largest country in the world unites with the country with the largest population,” she stated this week in an interview on radio station France Bleu.
“We will allow the largest world producer of raw materials—Russia—to unite with the largest ‘factory’ of the planet—China—perhaps we will let them become the number one military force in the world. I think this is a big danger. Therefore, it is necessary to use diplomatic measures, when the war is over, when the peace agreement is signed, to avoid this unification, which can become a threat to us in the 21st century.”
Macron and Le Pen are hardly outliers in their embrace of Putin. France’s other high-profile contenders for the presidency—the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-right Éric Zemmour, and Valérie Pécresse, the first woman to lead France’s traditional center-right Les Républicains—are all even warmer toward Putin than Macron.
Although the public in Europe generally demonizes Putin and sympathizes with Ukraine, it understands its interests are tied to Russia. When asked if they favored stronger sanctions against Russia if they led to higher fuel bills or taxes, just 24 percent of the French, 29 percent of Italians, and 38 percent of Germans agreed, according to a YouGov poll (pdf). In all these countries, over 80 percent expressed a general worry over the war. When asked more pointedly if they thought it likely their own country would be dragged into the war, 41 percent of Germans, 51 percent of Italians, and 52 percent of Brits answered yes.
The longer the war goes on, the greater the risk of military escalation, the deeper the economic costs to Europeans, whose food and fuel bills have already soared. And the less that Europeans will want to stomach the consequences of the Russian–Ukrainian war. Czechs have already reached a tipping point—most want to limit the number of refugees the country admits, and to cut off their aid after a few months.
Many Americans want a protracted war to bleed Russia. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, who claims he can fight the Russians for 10 years, seems willing to comply, despite the cost to his country—Ukraine’s GDP is being halved, according to the World Bank. When Europeans balk at the mounting collateral damage they’re experiencing and stop prolonging the war with arms and cash, the war can end and the task of repairing their relationship with Russia can begin.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.