The conflict in Ukraine is intensifying the contrast between the United States and Russia, whose leaders have distinctly different worldviews. Most Americans view Ukraine and NATO favorably, and have confidence in the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. But majorities have unfavorable opinions of Russia and no confidence in its leader, Vladimir Putin. They also see Russia as an enemy rather than a potential partner or competitor.
Amid the current hostilities, Americans should communicate a clear message, pro-Ukraine and pro-freedom, to help allies join the global struggle against Moscow’s aggression. It will require allies to stand firm even when Russian aggression generates economic blowback that hits them at home.
In addition, American leaders should make clear that a retaliatory attack by Russia would be dangerous to Europe and the US. They should remind people that a clash between the two superpowers would have profound implications for their countries’ trade and security and that European nations cannot afford to be mere neutral bystanders.
At the same time, public support for NATO has eroded since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, it should be remembered that the alliance’s mission of protecting democracy and freedom is a unifying idea for most Americans. Views vary somewhat by demographic groups, with Democrats, those with higher levels of education and those who think the U.S. should be active in world affairs more likely to have positive views of the alliance. The United States should continue to degrade Russian tools of statecraft by using sanctions, trade policy and financial instruments in tandem with military support for Ukraine.