In a December 14 interview with Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti, the former Austrian vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, argued that Europeans are looking to end the war in Ukraine.
Strache, a far-right politician, has a history of alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. In the interview, he blamed Ukraine and NATO for dragging out the conflict and said Europeans want the war settled early through negotiation:
"EU citizens do not want a further escalation of the conflict and the supply of weapons (by NATO and EU countries to Kyiv – RIA Novosti), but, ultimately, serious and honest peace initiatives."
Problem is, that characterization of European opinion is misleading. Polls show that support for Ukraine varies depending on how, when and where the questions are asked. It's true that Europeans want peace, but they generally agree that military and other aid to Ukraine is needed to get there.
Results showed that at least half backed sending weapons to Ukraine. Asked in September, “Should your country support Ukraine by delivering weapons?” 50% said yes. Phrased as “Should the EU support Ukraine by delivering weapons?” 55% answered yes.
Those numbers did decline from March. In the latest survey, respondents in Poland were the most supportive of their country supplying weapons to Ukraine, with 76% in favor, while those in Italy were least supportive, with only 36% in favor.
According to Eurobarometer, a series of surveys conducted for the European Commission in October and November 2022, 73% of EU citizens support the overall measures taken by the EU to help Ukraine, including sanctions on Russia, and financial, military or humanitarian support.
Support was highest – above 90% – in Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Ireland. Support was lowest in Greece (46%), Slovakia (47%), Cypress (48%) and Bulgaria (49%).
In April, Eurobarometer asked EU citizens whether they supported “Financing the purchase and supply of military equipment to Ukraine.” Sixty-seven percent answered that they fully approve (33%) or tend to approve (34%) of this measure.
The Eurobarometer survey showed large differences between EU member states regarding the supply of military equipment to Ukraine: “Whereas more than eight in ten approve of this measure in Finland (90%), Estonia (87%), Poland (86%), Lithuania (84%), and Portugal (83%), this applies to 30%-31% of respondents Bulgaria and Cyprus.”
In April, Eurofound, a European Union agency that manages research, surveyed more than 40,000 people and found that 66% of EU citizens approved of EU military assistance to Ukraine while 34% believed that the EU had already provided too much.
Europe’s support for weaponry to Ukraine is a historic development. Writing for the U.S. Institute of Peace in October, analysts Calin Trenkov-Wermuth and Jacob Zack said:
“Just three days after Russia began its war of aggression against Ukraine, the European Union announced that it would provide weapons to Ukraine through a new financing instrument, the European Peace Facility (EPF), marking the first time in EU history that the bloc provided lethal weaponry. Over the past six months, the EU has provided €2.5 billion to Ukraine through the EPF for arms and equipment, signaling a more muscular EU foreign policy featuring the unprecedented provision of direct military assistance.”
They argued that the EU should be doing even more, noting that the United States has provided nearly as much total assistance to Ukraine as all 27 EU members combined.
“The EU should be doing significantly more now to bolster its own defense by aiding Ukraine. As the largest economic bloc in the world, the EU needs to demonstrate that it has the political will to pay for its defense and to share more of the burden to uphold common norms and values.”
In his RIA Novosti interview, Strache goes on to parrot other Kremlin lines of disinformation, including falsely blaming the threat of NATO expansion for the war.
As Austria’s vice chancellor from 2017 to 2019, Strache was forced to resign after a scandal involving secretly recorded videos from 2017 meeting in Ibiza, Spain, where he appeared to offer public contracts in return for political contributions.
In 2020, the Austrian prosecutor's office published additional videos from the 2017 Ibiza meeting. Though Strache insisted that he had never engaged in illegal activities, he was tried for corruption and convicted in August 2021 of giving favors for party donations.
Strache received a 15-month suspended sentence and appealed.