Russia fear factor soars after a year of war and crisis

Munich Security Summit finds Russia, nuclear conflict and food shortages among top concerns in 12-country poll

Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy met Germany's Olaf Scholz days before the Russian invasion at last year's Munich Security Conference. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Fears of nuclear war and food shortages have spread around the world since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to a new poll.

A survey published on the eve of the Munich Security Conference shows Russia is now seen as the top security threat in five out of seven G7 countries.

People in rich countries share the global concern over food scarcity, the Munich Security Index shows, and are increasingly worried about an economic or financial crisis.

A nuclear conflict is a particular concern in Ukraine, Germany and Japan, after Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted at an escalation of the war.

Sophie Eisentraut, one of the authors of the report, said it was not just political elites who saw a the world entering a new age of competition between great powers.

“In 11 out of 12 countries surveyed, majorities feel that Russia's war against Ukraine is indeed a turning point for world politics,” she said.

“The question is: if the international order is really at a turning point, where is it actually turning? Which dynamics and which visions of the international order will have the greatest impact in this ongoing contest?”

These questions will hang over this weekend's gathering in Munich, which is sometimes described as the defence and security equivalent of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Last year's conference took place just days before the invasion of Ukraine, whose President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned what he called the world's appeasement of Russia.

High-profile guests this year will include German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, US Vice President Kamala Harris and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

A turf war within Mr Scholz's government has delayed the publication of a new German national security strategy meant to respond to new threats.

Summit chair Christoph Heusgen, a foreign policy adviser to former German chancellor Angela Merkel, said it was up to leaders of liberal democracies to set out a more positive vision.

“The fact that a considerable number of actors have not condemned Russia’s aggression shows that it is not enough for us to simply defend the status quo,” he said.

“If we do not address the resentment that countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia feel towards the international order, which has not always served their interests, we will struggle to win the fence-sitters as allies in the defence of key rules and principles.”

The Munich index assigns a score out of 100 to different threats, based on how people assess the danger, their country's preparedness and the severity of any crisis.

On that scale, concern over Russia has climbed by more than 20 points in Germany, Britain, China, France, Italy, Canada and Japan since November 2021.

The score for food scarcity climbed by double digits in Germany, Britain, China, France and Italy, and for nuclear war in those countries plus the US, Japan and Canada.

A poll within Ukraine showed huge concern over the war and resulting crises — but suggested people felt more prepared for these threats than in some western countries.

Some 45 per cent of Germans said their country was unprepared for threats from Russia, compared to 27 per cent in Britain and 22 per cent in the US, where people felt less ready for economic or energy shocks.

In Germany, 67 per cent felt that Russia posed an imminent risk. The figure was 78 per cent in Britain, 62 per cent in the US and 59 per cent in France. About half the population in those countries regarded nuclear war as an imminent threat.

The Covid-19 pandemic dropped out of the top global concerns, after most countries brought an end to virus-related restrictions.

Updated: February 13, 2023, 10:26 AM