How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Divided the World

Brands, and more generally people’s opinions, do not shift very rapidly. This is definitely true for products that have been on the market for many years – that is, unless something of great significance or catastrophic occurs. BP had a major oil spill that altered people’s opinion of the company. Years ago, Audi was charged with “unintended acceleration” and its car sales plummeted after the accusation. ValuJet had a plane go down in the Florida Everglades, sales fell, and the company eventually abandoned their name.

Most countries and their names predate almost all of us. The images we have of countries have been shaped over many years based on a wealth of input – from our early education, news coverage, movies, travel we or friends have done, food we eat, products we buy and many other sources. Our impressions of countries are well entrenched. As such, it is difficult for country images to change to any significant degree, short of something of great significance.

Events of the last year appear to have met that bar: Opinions in our 2022 Best Countries study, which this year surveyed more than 17,000 global citizens to garner perceptions about 85 countries in total, have shifted substantially. Much of the changes are tied to the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Usually when perceptions shift as the result of any significant event, the direction of the shift is relatively uniform. No one, for example, felt more positive about BP, ValuJet or Audi after they had their mishaps. But following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, global perceptions of the two nations have bifurcated. Countries have taken sides and their populaces have mostly followed suit.

The World’s View of Russia

In general, the perception of Russia has fallen. In 2021, according to the Best Countries survey, Russia was ranked No. 24 in the world. In the most recent data, collected after Russia invaded Ukraine, Russia dropped 12 spots to the No. 36 position. Among countries in the top 50 of the 2022 rankings, Russia’s fall was among the largest year-over-year declines in the rankings project’s history. (It should be noted that the survey was not fielded in Russia this year, meaning Russians did not have the opportunity to shape their country’s ranking.) Since the referendum that started Brexit, the United Kingdom experienced a slow and steady decline from the No. 3 position to No. 8, where it now sits for the second year in a row. That is more normal. There are often only small shifts in perception from one year to the next. When it comes to Russia, however, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in world opinion.

There has been a halo effect with Russia in the sense that as the overall perception of the nation has declined, so too has its reputation in certain areas, which the survey calls “attributes.” Russia is perceived to be in the bottom five of the 85 countries studied in the following attributes:

  • Cares about human rights
  • Cares about the environment
  • Corruption
  • Racial Equity
  • Family friendly
  • Friendly
  • Fun
  • Open for business

That said, the nation is still rated very highly (among the top five countries) in the attributes below:

  • A strong military
  • Politically influential
  • A leader
  • Athletically talented
  • Power

Despite Russia’s decline in the overall rankings, there is a wide disparity in how the world sees the country. At one extreme, China views Russia as the ninth-best country in the world, while at the other, both Poland and South Korea rank Russia as No. 69 – a difference of 60 spots. A majority of the countries rank Russia lower than No. 24, where it was ranked in the preceding year – only six countries rank it higher. This divergence is huge.

(Professor David J. Reibstein)

Global Perceptions of Ukraine

In stark contrast, global perceptions of Ukraine have improved. Ukraine went from No. 71 in 2021 – near the bottom of the 78 countries ranked – to No. 62 out of 85 countries in 2022. This is one of the most dramatic rises of any one country in a single year in the rankings’ history. Not surprisingly, Ukraine ranked in the bottom five countries in terms of the following attributes:

  • Safe
  • Politically stable
  • Economically stable
  • Happy
  • Good for tourism
  • Fun
  • Quality of life

The country was rated relatively high in terms of the below attributes:

  • Power
  • Strong military
  • Politically influential

Once again, the world is divided on their perspectives. The vast majority of countries rate Ukraine significantly higher than they did in previous years. In contrast, China, Vietnam, Argentina and Brazil rank Ukraine lower than they did in 2021. Nigeria ranks Ukraine No. 35 – the highest ranking for the country – while China ranks Ukraine No. 85, the lowest on the list.

(Professor David J. Reibstein)

The World’s View of Poland

Poland, like Ukraine, has benefited from a general boost in its global reputation. The country has opened its doors to millions of Ukrainian refugees, and most of the world appears to have approved. Poland rose from No. 43 in 2021 to No. 32 in 2022 – an even faster rise than that of Ukraine. Some of Poland’s strongest attributes include:

  • Safe
  • Cares about human rights
  • Friendly and family friendly
  • Social purpose

In stark contrast to Russia and Ukraine, countries around the world have been relatively unified in their perspective on Poland. While there are some modest differences in views of the country, they are relatively minor, particularly in comparison with the contrasting views of the other two nations. Poland is not engaged in the conflict, but rather has offered a humanitarian arm to those in distress, and the world has shown its gratitude and respect.

(Professor David J. Reibstein)

The results of the Best Countries survey this year suggest that a country’s actions on the international stage can have far-reaching consequences for how it is perceived. Ukraine and Poland, united by their opposition to Russia’s invasion of the former, seem to be enjoying a moment of global goodwill. Russia’s overall reputation, on the other hand, has been severely harmed and may take years to recover.

Photos: Best Countries Around the World

Three giraffe on Kilimanjaro mount background in National park of Kenya, Africa

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