Thomas Daniel was quoted in Channel News Asia, 3 July 2024

  • Of the respondents in the 35 countries surveyed, Malaysians had the most positive view on Russia.

By Asyraf Kamil

SINGAPORE: More Malaysians and Singaporeans now hold favourable views on Russia and its president Vladimir Putin, a new survey has found, with analysts citing Moscow’s support of the Palestinian cause and the Russian leader’s perceived “macho” image as key reasons.

The Pew Research Center study – which was released on Tuesday (Jul 2) night – focuses on public opinion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

“In Malaysia, public perceptions of both Russia and Putin are generally higher than in other Asian countries. That’s because Moscow is perceived as being Islamic-friendly due to its long-standing support for Palestinian statehood,” said Dr Ian Storey, Senior Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

He added: “The Israel-Hamas war may also have had a positive effect on Singaporean perceptions of Putin.”


While the study surveyed 44,166 adults in 35 countries between January and May 2024, CNA focused on the findings related to four Southeast Asian countries: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines.

Of the respondents in the 35 countries surveyed, Malaysians had the most positive view on Russia.

“Malaysia is the only country where a majority express a favourable opinion of Russia, with nearly six in 10 (57 per cent) Malaysians saying this,” the report said.

This is an increase from the 47 per cent of Malaysians holding a favourable view on Russia in a 2022 survey that was conducted by the United States-based think tank “immediately following (the country’s) invasion of Ukraine”.

Similarly, 34 per cent of Singaporeans expressed a favourable opinion of Russia in the latest survey, up six percentage points from 2022.

Meanwhile, 52 per cent of respondents from Thailand and 46 per cent of those in the Philippines hold a favourable opinion of Russia. These two countries, however, were not polled in Pew’s 2022 survey.

And within Thailand and Malaysia, 65 per cent and 63 per cent of adults below the age of 35 respectively have a positive opinion on Russia, according to the survey. Data was not available for Singapore and the Philippines on the breakdown by age group.

On the whole, however, views on Russia were not favourable.

“Overall, a median of 65 per cent of adults in the (35) surveyed countries have an unfavourable view of Russia, while 28 per cent have a favourable view,” the report found.

It added: “Although views of Russia generally remain negative, ratings have improved slightly in several countries since last year.”


Mr Putin is also popular among those polled in Malaysia (61 per cent) and the Philippines (56 per cent). Separately, 45 per cent of those in Thailand viewed the Russian president favourably.

“Malaysia and the Philippines are the only two countries surveyed where majorities express confidence in Putin, including about two in 10 in each country who have a lot of confidence in the Russian president,” read the Pew report.

Those polled in Malaysia who had confidence in Mr Putin was up two percentage points from the 2022 survey.

Meanwhile, the 37 per cent of those in Singapore who had confidence in Mr Putin to “do the right thing regarding world affairs” is an increase from the 36 per cent two years ago.


Dr Storey told CNA that public perceptions of both Russia and Mr Putin are generally higher in Malaysia than in other Asian countries.

“For Malaysians, this issue has become even more important since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in October 2023. Malaysians are generally critical of the United States’ stance on the war, and more supportive of Russia’s stand,” he said.

He added: “There are other factors too. Putin is seen as someone who defends ‘traditional values’ against the LGBTQ movement and ‘wokeism’ and this goes down well with conservative Malaysians.”

On the increase in support for Russia among Singaporeans, Dr Storey said that he “can’t think of any other reasons to account for that rise except for the Israel-Hamas war”.

“Many young Singaporeans have been upset about (it), both Muslims and non-Muslims. Sometimes, Russia is viewed favourably not because people are pro-Russian but because they are anti-American.”

Meanwhile, Mr Thomas Daniel – a Senior Fellow with Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia – told CNA that the views of the average Malaysian may be shaped by “how they view the policies of the West at large” which he added was a largely sceptical and critical one.

“In the case of the Russo-Ukrainian war, some would be more ready to believe those portrayed as ‘against the West’.  If the nefarious West is at fault, as they more often are, the other side must surely be in the right. It is a dangerously simplistic view of the world, but an unfortunate one that we must contend with,” he said.

In 2022, Mr Putin authorised what he called a “special military operation” in breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine. This came after months of military presence along the borders to exert pressure on Ukraine, who had wanted to join NATO – a military alliance of over 30 countries in Europe and North America.

Asian Studies professor James Chin of the University of Tasmania believes that the Ukraine issue is not such a “big issue in this part of the world” as compared to the war in the Middle East.

“The number one factor as to why Malaysians and Singaporeans have a better view of Russia and Putin – especially Malaysia – is that the large number of the Muslim population, and also a significant portion of the non-Muslim population, sees Russian support in the Middle East for the Palestinian issue as a very important factor,” said Dr Chin.

Meanwhile, Dr Storey added that Russian narratives have found “fertile ground” in Southeast Asia.

“Many people have empathised with Russia’s claim that it was provoked into attacking Ukraine because of the eastward expansion of NATO,” he said.

Beyond that, Dr Storey also outlined reasons as to why he believes Mr Putin has scored well among Southeast Asian respondents.

He said: “Across the region, Putin has generally favourable ratings due to his perceived macho, strong-man image, and because he is viewed as standing up to the West.”

The Pew Research Center survey was released ahead of a July 2024 summit marking the 75th anniversary of NATO’s founding. The study found that a median of 63 per cent of adults across 13 member countries surveyed have a positive opinion of NATO, while a 33 per cent median have a negative opinion.

Separately, global ratings of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy are mixed, more than two years since Russia’s invasion of his country.

This article first published in Channel News Asia, 3 July 2024

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