How Do Russians View Cooperation with Europe?
№2 2003 April/June

The article was published in Russian in Analiticheskiye Zapiski,
Dec./2002. This article was prepared with the support from the
Russian Foundation for Fundamental Research, Grant No. 01-06-80087.
Data herein cited is based on public opinion monitoring sponsored
by the Institute of Comprehensive Social Research of the Russian
Academy of Sciences. The polls were held in 2002 and, partly, in

The Russian people have a positive attitude toward increased
cooperation with the European countries, recent public opinion
polls indicate. This survey, organized in the summer of 2002,
revealed that 51.5 percent of people support the efforts of the
Russian government’s joining the European Union, together with the
idea of entering a common European market. The figure is much
greater than the actual number of so-called zapadniki (Russian
people with a pro-Western orientation); it also includes a
percentage of those who believe that Russia is not a European
nation in the classical sense, but rather a peculiar Eurasian
civilization. Those in favor of the drive toward greater European
cooperation also include some people who believe that the Western
nations are not necessarily inclined to cooperate with Russia, but
would rather work toward its enfeeblement. Nevertheless, the poll
demonstrates that the Russian people find European orientation
preferable to many of the other options available for Russia’s

However, the Russian people appear to have far less unanimity
when it comes down to assessing their country’s position in Europe.
This is proved, in particular, by what they say about its place in
Europe, as well as within the European market (see Table 1).

Specifically, the data demonstrates the dominance of the
proponents of integration into Europe over the skeptics. But the
results also prove that skepticism is strong, with almost a third
of those polled believing that accession to the European Union is
either not mandatory, or simply unnecessary for Russia.
Importantly, the opinions of the proponents for European
integration and the skeptics are close to parity in the major
Russian regions, including Moscow, where 42 percent of those polled
are in favor of EU integration, while 39 percent are opposed to

The proponents for greater European cooperation have a
proportionate representation throughout all age groups, but their
percentage is much less amongst those in the population who are 60
years old and over. On the other hand, the survey results indicate
that the number of opponents to integration in this age group is
similar to that in other samplings coordinated along the age
principle (see Graph 1).

A comparison of what Russians of different age groups and social
status think about different aspects of cooperation with Europe
suggests that the situation is not homogeneous; actually, the
consensus may be labeled ’bifurcational.’ It may have different
vectors of development (including the adverse ones) and is likely
to remain rather ambiguous, that is, until life itself coordinates
the concepts of Russo-European rapprochement and reveals its
possible forms.

It will be of little significance to reiterate the importance of
Russia’s cooperation with Europe at this time. What matters here is
that cooperation cannot be a one-way street, and maintaining the
dynamics between the two powers is highly contingent on what our
European partners are presently doing.

This perspective demands that we closely examine what Russians
think about Western Europe’s motives for building relations between
the two powers.

Table 1.How Russians view their
country’s position in Europe and on the European market
Statement Percentage
Russia is part of Europe. It played a crucial role in the
future of European nations in the 20th century, and European
countries will remain its closest allies in the 21st century
Russia is not a European country, strictly speaking; it is a
very special Eurasian civilization which tends to be more oriented
toward the East
Not sure/no opinion 22.8
Russia’s strengthened position means danger for European
nations, and that is why they have no genuine interest in its
economic growth
Developed European countries are interested in Russia’s getting
out of the crisis, because Europe is a common home for Russians and
for the West-Europeans alike
Not sure/no opinion 14.0
Russia must work toward EU accession and integration into the
European market
EU accession is not mandatory nor necessary for Russia 29.5
Not sure/no opinion 19.0
Graph 1. What Russians think of
integration into Europe (age correlation, %)
Table 2. What Russians think of
West-Europeans’ motives for cooperation with Russia
Possible motives Percentage
West-Europeans’ interests are focused exclusively on Russian
natural resources (oil, gas, etc.)
Western Europe has an interest in Russia as counterweight to
U.S. global hegemony
Western Europe would like to make use of Russia’s intellectual
and cultural resources
Western Europe has an interest in equitable economic
cooperation with Russia
Western Europe is interested in the progress of democracy and
market reforms in Russia
Not sure/no opinion
(Total may exceed 100 percent as
respondents could simultaneously choose two options)

The survey shows that there is a tiny minority of the population
(4.5 percent) who believe that the Europeans do not have any
genuine interest in cooperating with Russia. Of the Russian
respondents, many tend to believe that the developed European
nations are interested in this country’s withdrawal from the
economic crisis, but they differ in why West-Europeans should have
this interest.

Table 2 displays, in descending order, the opinions concerning
what the Russian people believe to be the true motives behind
Western Europe’s rapprochement with Russia.

The data proves that a large number of Russians trust the
West-Europeans. They believe that they are interested in making
Russia an equitable economic partner, fostering Russia’s nascent
democratic institutions and market reforms, and procuring its
intellectual and cultural potential. These views correlate with the
opinion that the Europeans would like to see the European continent
a common home for both Russians and themselves. At the same time,
however, almost half of the Russian population (48.0 percent) holds
a totally different opinion. They suggest that the Europeans are
not truly interested in Russia’s economic revival since they still
perceive it as a potential threat to the West.

In terms of the social profile of this category of people, the
needy and poor make up two-thirds of the respondents. The age
factor is also relevant, as young people (under 35) and senior
citizens (aged 60 years and older) display a greater tendency to
hold such views than other groups. Remarkably enough, those who
suspect the West of being apprehensive about Russia exceed the
number of people with alternative views by over 100 percent amongst
those who are 20 years old and younger. The variability of opinions
on this question was a mere one to four percent amongst respondents
between the ages of 35 to 60 years old.

Another manifestation of this skepticism is found in the
dominant belief (60 percent of those polled) that Europe narrowly
focuses its interest in Russia on its vast natural resources.
Differences in age and educational levels have virtually no
relevance here. However, Russians who are limited to an incomplete
secondary education display a higher tendency to trust the
West-European proposals to build an equitable economic partnership
with Russia. They more rarely support the statement that Europe
only needs Russian oil and gas (see Graph 2).

Graph 2. Is Europe interested in
cooperation with Russia? (responses of Russian citizens with
different education levels, %)

The group of people born in the period 1972 through 1982 stands
out from the others. These people started their careers at the
outset of Mikhail Gorbachev’s restructuring program, or during the
commencement of liberal reforms, when the idea of joining the
civilized world was just beginning to sweep through the nation. The
representatives of this age group do not share the view that the
Europeans are mostly interested in Russia’s natural resources, but
are more inclined to link the cooperative efforts of the Europeans
to their opposition to the U.S. global hegemony. However, older age
groups (over 30) are again characterized by a pragmatic
interpretation of the European intentions for cooperation with

Regional variations reflect the biggest difference of opinions,
with the gaps reaching 10 percent to 20 percent, or more. The
residents of Moscow suggest more frequently than other Russian
citizens that the Europeans focus disproportionately on pragmatic
values, while the population of the northwestern region, the upper
Volga and the Vyatka River basin is less likely to insist on

The conviction that Western Europe may have some interest in
Russia’s high cultural and intellectual potential, together with
its abundant natural resources, appears to be a rather strong
opinion. This is most often stressed by people with a full or
incomplete higher education, as well as by the segment of the
population aged 20 years or younger, who are mostly students.

Regional differences are evident here, too, with those
respondents living in St. Petersburg (a city often referred to as
the cultural capital of Russia) eagerly supporting the idea of
European integration. Muscovites and the population of the northern
and northwestern regions, which are strongly oriented toward a
market economy, support the idea of cultural and intellectual
interests with less enthusiasm. The analysis of the results reveals
an amazing correlation of opinions. The regions where people tend
to place emphasis on the use of Russia’s cultural and intellectual
capability also emphasize its geopolitical and geostrategic
importance, i.e. Russia’s part in counterbalancing U.S. dominance
in the world.

A noteworthy poll result concerns the question of Europe’s
actual readiness to establish an equitable partnership with Russia,
and its commitment to promote democratic values and market reforms.
Few respondents provided a positive answer: 17.0 percent and 14.0
percent, respectively. These responses vary significantly across
different regions, with the Muscovites displaying the greatest
amount of pessimism.

However, to conclude from these numbers that Russia sees the
West as reluctant to establish a partnership on equal terms would
be incorrect. The general understatement is that Russia has a
modest assortment of opportunities it could offer to the West. It
is most manifest in the responses as to whether or not this country
may hope to consolidate its positions in Europe over the next ten
years. The percentage of respondents who believe that the West
disproportionately focuses its attention on Russia’s natural
resources is approximately the same as the percentage of those who
believe that Russia’s natural resources enjoy the greatest
competitive advantage on the European market (Table 3).

Table 3. In what spheres can Russia
consolidate its position in Europe over the next decade?
Areas where to consolidate positions Percentage
Production and export of natural resources (oil, gas, metals,
timber, etc.)
Science and high technologies 27.9
Defense industry 26.4
Industrial production 12.4
Culture and education 12.3
Agriculture 8.0
Other areas 0.4
Not sure/no opinion 6.9
(Total may exceed 100 percent as
respondents could simultaneously choose two options)

The data shows that the Russians place science, high
technologies, and defense exports as possible second and third
highest in a European market. Industrial production, as well as
culture and education, gathered slightly over 12 percent.
Agriculture, nicknamed “a black hole of the Russian economy,” takes
the last position with eight percent. The total number of
respondents who believe that Russia has absolutely no chance to
consolidate specific positions in Europe comes close to seven

Responses to the last question reflect the strong opinions of
the youngest people polled. They place a greater emphasis on the
development of science and high technologies, and rank them
slightly ahead of natural resources – at 46.7 percent and 41.6
percent, respectively. This group stressed the importance of
education (21.7 percent) – 50 percent more than the average
percentage in this group. Young respondents are less inclined to
believe that Russia has no other chances for strengthening its
positions in Europe; this figure drops to 1.5 percent amongst the
group of people under 25. Is this a case of youthful confidence, or
a belief in one’s own ability to correct the situation? The answer
will be clear over time. What is more important is that despite
certain peculiar aspirations, young respondents still exemplify the
mainstream tendency. Generally speaking, the young are more
optimistic than the older generations, although people in the age
bracket of 25 to 31 years old are not as hopeful as the

The opinions of the average man-on-the-street amazingly
correlate with the opinions of the Russian experts. By way of
illustration, I can compare the data of the 2001 poll held among
Russian foreign policymakers. The overall layout of figures
suggests that experts have generally the same opinions as
rank-and-file Russians. It also indicates that the general public
is well informed about the international situation. The distinctive
difference in the results of the two polls is that the foreign
policy experts place a much greater stress on arms exports – a 100
percent increase over the ordinary citizens. The closeness of the
results prompts us to conclude that the Russians – policymakers and
ordinary people – have a similar hierarchy of priorities for what
determines cooperation with the European Union. This hierarchy of
priorities is clearly demonstrated in Table 4.

Table 4. What areas of cooperation
with the EU experts find most important for Russia
Areas of cooperation Percentage
Participation in multinational technological projects
(aerospace, nuclear energy, infrastructure)
Broader and more efficient political dialog 38.6
Elimination of remaining discriminatory measures in trade 54.3
Deeper integration and commercializing of Russian and European
research projects
Integration of Russian and European infrastructures and
information systems (European Information Community)
Assistance to making euro an international hard currency 19.0
Joint fighting against international terrorism and organized
Cooperation in defense (prospects of creating a ’European
defense identity’)
Cultural exchanges, people’s diplomacy 26.2
Consolidation of pan-European security system 56.7
Turning the Kaliningrad region into a proving ground for
interaction with the EU
(Total may exceed 100 percent as
respondents could simultaneously choose two options)

A discussion of the prospects of Russo-European cooperation must
certainly take into account an entire range of background factors
(social, cultural and historial), which significantly affect the
opinions and apprehensions of the Russian people. This is most
obvious amongst the responses concerning particular organizations
that have been traditionally involved in the East-West standoff,
with NATO occupying the top position in this regard. The Russian
public has the worst perception of the North-Atlantic pact compared
with other organizations uniting the European nations: the very
mentioning of NATO provoked a negative reaction in 70 percent of

The unclear purposes of NATO, as well as its vague intentions
toward Russia (“Are we friends or foes?”) arouse an association of
this bloc with a military threat, and hence a certain psychological
discomfort. The overall lack of clarity was manifest in how
Russians responded to a possible conclusion of a Russia-NATO
cooperation treaty which would create a union between them.

The respondents were offered to choose from several possible
options for a Russia-NATO rapprochement, and each option gathered
approximately 15 percent of support (see Table 5). However, the
negative statement “NATO was an offspring of the Cold War, and it
must be dissolved” attracted the largest percentage of agreement,
although it was far from an overwhelming percentage (more than 27
percent). It is worth noting that the consensus of the ordinary
people and the experts seem to display more agreement on the NATO
issue now, while in the mid-1990s the population was more at ease
with the bloc than were Russian policymakers.

Table 5. How Russians view political
consequences of a Russia-NATO union
Possible political consequences Percentage
Russia will get a prospect of joining NATO as a full-fledged
There will be an equal union where Russia and NATO countries
will take collegiate decisions on major security issues
It will help NATO neutralize the negative attitudes in Russia
toward expansion eastwards (into Baltic region, Ukraine, etc.)
Russia and NATO will be able to use force jointly if need
Leading European members of NATO and Russia will be able to
oppose U.S. aspirations for dominance
Nothing good will come out of that union; NATO was an offspring
of the Cold War and it must be dissolved
Not sure/no opinion 20.5
(Total may exceed 100 percent as
respondents could simultaneously choose two options)

Yet, the worries and doubts that Russians find to be marring the
prospects of a rapprochement with Europe go beyond NATO expansion.
The people in Russia are apparently apprehensive of a “peaceful”
expansion of the EU, as well as of the situation that has recently
transpired around the Kaliningrad region (Russia’s enclave in the
Baltic region which is now experiencing certain travel impediments
with the mainland). Russians show an unwillingness to yield to the
imaginary or real pressures they face, while the vast majority of
Russian society has adopted an unequivocal line on defending its
national interests over Kaliningrad. The idea that it must have the
same status as any other Russian region received the support of
over 60 percent of those polled (see Table 6).

Table 6. What status should the
Kaliningrad region have?
Possible options of status Percentage
Kaliningrad region shall remain part of Russia and have same
status as other regions
Kaliningrad region shall retain current political and juridical
status, but shall become a free economic zone
Kaliningrad region shall be jointly governed by Russia and the
Kaliningrad region used to be part of East Prussia before World
War II and it may reunify with Germany over time
Not sure/no opinion 13.8

Almost 20 percent of the respondents found it possible to
combine the enclave’s current political and juridical status with a
free economic zone. This option was supported by middle-class
people, most of them having obtained a full or incomplete higher
education. The group also includes some people under the age of 35.
On the other hand, the idea of making Kaliningrad a Russia-EU
condominium, as well as the suggestion that the enclave may revert
back to German rule in the future, proved to be the least popular
statements, attracting an approval rating of just 2.7 percent in
each case.

The responses featured in Table 6 vary across demographic groups
and geographic areas, but the average responses on the Kaliningrad
status issue remained the same across the country. Geographical
differences are more pronounced than the differences in age,
education or welfare. Amongst various age groups, the difference
between those who insist that Russia maintain its sovereignty over
the Kaliningrad territory and those who do not shows a steady
proportion (11:1 to 12:1), whereas the regional variations are as
great as 8:1 to 21:1.

The second set of issues is centered on Russia’s relations with
Western Europe. They boil down to what status Russia will have if
it joins the European Union, and how this process would be linked
to the restructuring of the post-Soviet area; these questions are
important since there is no clarification yet as to how the
European integration can be balanced with a similar integration
process within the Commonwealth of Independent States.

European officials in Strasbourg and Brussels clearly find
dialog with the Russian Federation as a separate entity preferable,
but the actual feasibility of that approach is yet to be seen.
Russia itself is a powerful center of gravity surrounded by a
galaxy, albeit somewhat haphazardly organized. Russia is fully
aware of its position and is reluctant to discard it. And should
Russia be forced to choose between Europe and Belarus, for example,
the choice will not automatically be in favor of the Europeans.

The poll has shown that Russians display solidarity in terms of
their international cooperation, integration and development of
Russia’s relations with Europe. Major proportions of the opinions
expressed are clearly presented in all groups, irrespective of the
respondents’ age, education, welfare, or residence in the urban
centers or countryside. The results indicate that Russian society
is highly homogeneous in that respect.