Britons support sanctions to defeat Russia despite cost

Three quarters in 'The National' survey want sanctions to stay but some fear effect on the rising cost of living

A Ukrainian serviceman near Dolina village in the Donetsk region on September 22. A majority of Britons support sanctions against Russia to reverse its invasion of Ukraine, a poll for 'The National' found. AFP
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Imposing some form of sanctions against Russia is supported in the UK despite the hardship caused by spiralling energy costs, a poll commissioned by The National found.

Three quarters of the UK population want sanctions to remain against Russia after its invasion of Ukraine but a separate question showed half of those asked were concerned about the effect of rising costs on household incomes. A third of Britons support harsh sanctions even if there is hardship.

The survey suggests that many in Britain have adopted a “wartime spirit”, willing to suffer the consequences for Ukraine to prevail, leading commentators told The National.

There is also considerable support for Nato to expand the number of countries in the alliance, the poll found, but the United Nations needs to do a lot more to assist Ukraine, it also reported.

Of the 2,096 adults surveyed, 35 per cent agreed with the statement that Britain should impose sanctions against Russia “even if they cause a rise in the cost of living in the UK”.

A further 41 per cent agreed with the sanctions on the proviso that they did not lead to rising household costs. Only 8 per cent were against sanctions.

Leading commentators told The National that the survey was important because it will allow British politicians to retain sanctions, which are severely hampering Russia’s war efforts, denying it technology to build weapons to attack Ukraine, including its civilian population.

“This is something that political leaders could work with and my argument to them is that if you just keep the policy consistent between now and April the pressure will start to ease on the West because then the pressure all comes back on to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin,” said Prof Michael Clarke, a leading military commentator and former director of the Rusi think-tank.

“My view has always been that we've just got to get through this winter then things will get better because Putin has fired his last shot by cutting off all gas supplies to Europe,

“He looks as if he's in serious trouble now and earlier than some of us thought he might be,” he said.

The poll also showed that “the British people understand that freedom sometimes requires sacrifice”, said Dr Alan Mendoza, director of the Henry Jackson Society think tank.

“Vladimir Putin is losing his war of choice in Ukraine and the British public appear ready to continue to take further sacrifices in support of that,” he said.

“If it is explained to people very clearly why you need to impose the sanctions regardless of the cost-of-living crisis, people should use these polling results as a campaign of education to explain why all political parties believe that we have to do this because it's essential for the preservation of our free world system.”

He said that political leadership was vital to explain why sanctions need to continue.

“This is the moment when you step up to the plate and say, despite there being privations, this is why we have to do it. It's all about political leadership, explaining why something that looks unpalatable on the surface is actually necessary.”

Europe’s wider population also understood that sanctions were the best response because they “do not require military presence on the ground”, said Orysia Lutsevych, the Chatham House think tank leading analyst on Ukraine.

“The public understand that it's an acceptable price to pay to allow Ukraine's victory when they’ve seen all the images of devastation and war crimes happening on European soil."

But she said that people had to understand that sanctions take time to take effect. “They need to be realistic and understand that sanctions are a bit like a slow pressure cooker and they are not an immediate heatwave that causes cast iron to crack.

“I personally think that the sanctions are crippling the Russian economy for decades to come, grinding it into a very primitive economy with no technology, no foreign investment and complete reliance on Asian markets for the export of oil and gas.

“The living standards will collapse and Russia will have an inability to rearm. Because of sanctions they will not be able to regenerate more armour, artillery and high-precision weapons against Ukraine. So for sanctions to continue is a huge priority.”

The poll demonstrated that Britons realised that sanctions were the best way of pressuring Russia “outside direct military action”, said former British army officer Hamish de Breton Gordon.

“People are beginning to understand that the cost-of-living crisis is almost exclusively now caused by the war in Ukraine because of the increase in fuel and food prices.”

But he said that while people were preparing for a long war, if Britain or Europe had a severe winter “the situation might change”.

The sanctions are already having an effect on Russia’s ability to build advanced weaponry such as precision missiles and fighter jets.

“Sanctions are hurting in two particular ways,” Prof Clarke said. “One is in components, because they are really struggling now to produce sophisticated weapons

“But sanctions are also deterring China from really helping Russia because Chinese companies that could help Russia in all sorts of ways are not doing so because they're frightened of secondary sanctions. This is really important.”

The National’s poll also found that 46 per cent of respondents want Nato to expand its role in Europe, with Sweden and Finland already in the process of joining the alliance after the Russian aggression.

Similarly, 54 per cent believed the United Nations could do more to help whereas 30 per cent believed it had done enough.

Fifty-seven per cent said the British government, largely under the leadership of former prime minister Boris Johnson, had done “as much as can be reasonably expected” to help Ukraine although 31 per cent suggested it “should do more”.

Updated: September 26, 2022, 3:20 PM