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Germans approve of government U-turn on Ukraine

March 4, 2022

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has led to an about-face in German foreign and security policy. A recent opinion poll shows most Germans think this is the right thing to do.

Demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
Germany's monthly infratest survey shows large-scale support for the government's tough measuresImage: Fabrizio Bensch/REUTERS

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has led the German government to radically change its policies.

On Sunday, February 27, Chancellor Olaf Scholz from the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) announced the export of weapons to Ukraine, a dramatic increase in defense spending and his country's support for severe sanctions against Russia, which is Germany's main provider of gas and coal.

The infratest polling institute conducted a telephone and online survey of 1,320 adults who are eligible to vote across Germany from February 28 to March 2 and found that 53% of respondents rate the German government's new tough response as appropriate. For 27%, it doesn't go far enough. 14%, on the other hand, say it goes too far.

Scholz: Putin 'destroying the European security structure'

Refugees, the economy and the Bundeswehr

A majority — even of those who support the anti-migration far-right populist Alternative for Germany party (AfD) — say they are in favor of Germany taking in refugees from Ukraine: 91% agree that this is fundamentally the right thing to do.

For decades, German governments have pursued a strict policy of not sending weapons to crisis regions. Berlin initially refused to provide military aid to Ukraine in the current crisis — now it has given the go-ahead. The attitude towards arms deliveries has changed dramatically: In February only 20% of voters polled were in favor; that figure has now risen to 61%. And 45% feel Berlin's about-turn came too late.

The planned financial boost for Germany's armed forces, the Bundeswehr, has also met with approval. A one-time investment of 100 billion euros (1.2 bn) and the increase of the military budget to meet the NATO stipulation of 2% of GDP have been announced — to the satisfaction of many.

Infographic showing support for the announced rise in defence spending

NATO itself seems to have enjoyed a popularity boost during the current crisis: 83% of those polled emphasized the importance of the transatlantic defense alliance to peace in Europe.

A majority of respondents were critical of Germany's friendly and trade-based policies toward Russia over the past decades: 68% said they felt Berlin had been too lenient toward Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Six out of ten respondents support Ukraine's long-term admission to the European Union. But pessimism prevails: Three out of four respondents expect Ukraine to be fully occupied by Russia.

The overall sentiment is grim: Nine out of ten respondents said they are very worried. In the summer of 2014, on the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, three out of ten Germans were afraid of a new major war on the continent. Now, seven out of ten are concerned that further countries could be attacked by Russia.

Most of those surveyed in the monthly poll said they were aware that Germany will not emerge unscathed: 64% fear a deterioration in Germany's economic situation, 66% fear restrictions in gas and energy supplies. Half of all respondents doubt the sanctions will have any impact on Russia's current course. Nevertheless, most Germans support the punitive measures.

Infographic showing approval ratings for the five main measures

Russia is bottom of the list of countries respondents rate as trustworthy partners – behind China. The US, meanwhile, is seeing a ten-year-high.

The new federal government coalition of SPD, the Greens and the neoliberal FDP —  which has not even been in power for 100 days —  has been able to regain trust, having lost significant support at the beginning of the year. One month ago a mere 38% said they were satisfied with the government, now the figure stands at 56%.

Overall Germany's ruling politicians scored well: 56% say they are satisfied with the work of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, an increase of 13% over last month.

The Green Party's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has made significant gains and now has an approval rating of 50%. FDP Finance Minister Christian Lindner and Green Party Economy Minister and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck have risen by seven and eight percent — to 49% and 47% in the approval ratings, respectively.

Were federal elections to be held tomorrow, however, the center-right opposition parties Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) would likely scrape a victory.

Infografic showing who respondents would vote for if a snap federal election were to be held

This article was originally written in German.

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