While the United States warns that Russia might invade Ukraine at any time, the sound of war is almost unheard in Moscow, where intellectuals and regular citizens alike do not anticipate Russian President Vladimir Putin to strike his former Soviet neighbor.
The Kremlin has characterized US warnings of an impending assault as “hysteria” and “absurdity,” and many Russians feel the US is purposely inflaming panic and inflaming tensions in order to provoke a confrontation for domestic reasons.
Putin’s enraged language about NATO’s ambitions to expand to Russia’s “doorstep” and its inability to listen to Moscow’s concerns has resonated with the people, tapping into a sense of betrayal by the West following the end of the Cold War and widespread mistrust of Western intentions.
Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign affairs advisor, spoke to reporters following President Joe Biden’s chat with Putin on Saturday, bemoaning what he called “hysteria” in the United States over a supposed impending invasion, saying the situation had “reached the point of ridiculousness.”
Russia has gathered over 130,000 troops east, north, and south of Ukraine, according to the US, and has the capability to launch an offensive at any time.
Russian authorities have vehemently rejected any plans to attack Ukraine and dismissed Western worries about the military buildup near the country, claiming that Moscow is allowed to station soldiers anywhere it wants on its own soil.
“We don’t understand why they’re distributing obviously erroneous information about Russian intentions,” Ushakov said of US predictions of an impending strike.
Following the fall of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president in 2014, Russia invaded the Crimean Peninsula and backed a separatist rebellion in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, Donbas, where more than 14,000 people have been murdered in conflict.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, has taken a more confrontational tone, calling Washington’s predictions of an impending Russian attack on Ukraine “war propaganda” by the US and some of its allies.
Zakharova claimed that the US “needs a conflict at any cost,” accusing the US of using “provocations, misinformation, and threats” to solve its own issues.
She slammed US intelligence claims about Russia mounting a “false flag” operation to create a pretext for invading Ukraine, comparing them to then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s 2003 speech before the United Nations Security Council, in which he argued for war against Iraq based on faulty intelligence claims that Saddam Hussein had secretly stashed weapons of mass destruction.
“American politicians have lied, are lying, and will continue to lie,” Zakharova stated.
State television has echoed this language, accusing Washington and its allies of organizing bogus operations to inspire hardline forces in Ukraine to start an attack to recover territories controlled by Russia-backed rebels in the country’s east.
According to polls, the majority of Russians have similar sentiments.
According to recent polls conducted by the Levada Center, the top independent opinion firm, more than half of respondents believe the US is to blame for the current standoff over Ukraine, while about 15% blame Ukraine and only 3% -4 percent believe it is Russia’s fault, with the rest undecided, according to its director Denis Volkov in comments broadcast earlier this month. The margin of error for Levada’s national polling of roughly 1,600 persons is less than 3.4 percentage points.
“Most people regard the situation as a Russia-US battle,” Volkov said, adding that respondents in focus group interviews suggested the US may pressure Ukraine to strike rebels in the east in order to drag Russia into the conflict.
Anaida Gevorgyan, a Moscow resident, rejected the idea of a conflict as “propaganda” from the West.
“Russia will never do it,” she stated emphatically. “We are a brotherly couple who have shared a home for many years.”
Russian political analysts ignore US war fears, pointing out that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would come at a high cost and provide Putin with no obvious victories.
“For Moscow, the dangers of an invasion of Ukraine exceed any potential rewards,” wrote Sergei Poletayev, a Moscow-based security analyst.
A full-fledged invasion, unlike Crimea, which Russia gained from Ukraine without firing a shot in 2014, and the fighting in Donbas, where Moscow has denied taking a military role despite Ukrainian and Western assertions to the contrary, is guaranteed to be a political and economic disaster for Russia.
While the Kremlin appears determined to reintegrate Ukraine into its orbit, a massive offensive will inevitably result in massive casualties, undermining Russia’s global standing, leading to international isolation, and shattering Putin’s image as a leader who cares about ordinary Ukrainians and sees the two people as one.
“It’s inconceivable to envisage a conflict with Ukraine,” said Vitaly Ladygin, a Moscow resident. “We’ve always lived together since we all have family there.” I adore Ukraine and hope to visit there once it’s all over.”
An strike on Ukraine would almost certainly result in harsh Western sanctions, further crippling Russia’s lagging economy, reducing people’s wages, and eroding Putin’s popularity. While the Russian force is likely to route the much inferior Ukrainian army, it will almost certainly confront heavy opposition afterwards, culminating in a lengthy struggle that would sap Moscow’s limited resources.
While “it’s important to impede NATO’s future expansion and militarization of Ukraine,” Sergei Karaganov, a Russian foreign policy specialist with deep links to Kremlin thinking, stated in newly released comments that “we absolutely don’t have intentions to overrun Ukraine.”
Many Russian watchers anticipate that instead of launching an invasion, Putin might try to put pressure on the West with additional force deployments and drills to keep Ukraine out of NATO.
“Having failed to achieve a full diplomatic result or dare to use force,” Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center wrote in an analysis, “Russia could turn its army presence near Ukraine into a constant or regularly renewed source of threat, causing damage to Ukraine that Western assistance would not be able to compensate.” “It will also put pressure on the West, and in the end, Ukraine and the West may be able to show more flexibility.”