Clear-cut differences in perceptions of the EU emerged following national surveys conducted among the populations of Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. These were conducted under the leadership of Dr. Elena Korosteleva of the Department of International Politics at the University of Aberystwyth.
In Belarus, the public is largely uninterested and uninformed about the EU, the survey shows. Every fifth respondent had difficulty naming EU member states, while every second was unable to name the location of the EU headquarters.
While people in Belarus associate the EU with liberal-democratic values (e.g. market economy, human rights, democracy and rule of law), they describe they own country by opposite socio-cultural values underscoring respect for cultural heritage, tolerance and religion, the survey finds.
In Ukraine, the majority of respondents disapprove of the Westward orientation of Ukraine's foreign policy. Instead, they favour balanced relations with both Russia and the EU. Opinion towards unification with Russia is divided according to regional differences: whilst West Ukraine unanimously supports European integration, the south and east of the country are more pro-Russia orientated.
Positive emotions with regard to the EU were evoked in less than half of Ukrainian respondents, with a third stating negative feelings. Overall, EU relations with Ukraine are evaluated rather negatively. Ukrainians believe the EU considers Ukraine to be a backward, weak, second-rate country, the study reveals.
In contrast, in Moldova, twice as many respondents would prefer to strengthen relations with the EU rather than Russia.
In Moldova, a country wedged between Romania and Ukraine, the EU was assessed positively and was associated with economic prosperity and democracy.
Moldovans believe they can learn from the EU's achievements on the market economy, democracy, social protection and national security. The respondents believe that Moldova is perceived in the EU as a friendly and peaceful yet somewhat weak and backward country.
Respondents maintain that Moldova should eventually join the EU. They believe membership would accelerate its economic development, increase wealth, improve the political situation and reduce unemployment. The only negative consequence of possible EU membership is expected to be a rise in consumer prices.
The study, which covers Russia too, found that Russian nationals are rather well-informed about the EU and characterise it as a zone of stability and economic prosperity. In particular, Germany is singled out as the 'business card' of the EU, symbolising these achievements.
Relations between Russia and the EU are described by most Russian commentators as "rather good", though they are not always seen as equal or mutually beneficial.
EU policy instruments vis-à-vis its neighbours are little known, the study reveals. In Belarus, 83% have never heard of the Neighbourhood Policy or the more recent Eastern Partnership initiative. In Ukraine the percentage is 80%. In Russia only 10% have heard of the policies.