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The mood in Russia over Ukraine tensions

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

And we're actually going to stay in Moscow because we wanted to talk more about how this crisis is being viewed in Russia. So we called Russian journalist Vladimir Pozner. I spoke with him by Skype earlier today.

Why do ordinary people in Russia - why do they believe their country has all these troops, all these tanks on Ukraine's border?

VLADIMIR POZNER: Well, first of all, you may be surprised to know that people aren't talking that much about it. There is not this constant drumming about the possibility of a war. It's there. It's on television. There's no doubt about it. But when people come together, they don't talk about it very much. They feel that it's exaggerated. They're absolutely certain - most of them, at least - that Russia does not want a war and that there will not be a war. What's happening is both sides are trying to show who's bigger and who's stronger and who's boss, and a lot of people feel that's stupid. And people say, look. This is our country. The troops are in our country, and they should be able to be wherever they want to be.

KELLY: Although it's a very big country (laughter), and yet there's some 130,000 on the border ringing Ukraine.

POZNER: Well, the the numbers are different. Some say 100. Some say 97. I don't think that's the point. And Russia does not ring Ukraine. That's...

KELLY: On three sides of Ukraine. You're right. Yeah.

POZNER: It is - right. But the feeling is among most of the people I've spoken to that this whole drumming up of the possibility or the reality of Russia attacking Ukraine is something that the West is interested in and that Russia doesn't want because Russia can win nothing by invading Ukraine. On the contrary, it can lose a lot. Not only would it be a drawn-out guerrilla warfare kind of thing, which Russia cannot really bear. It would be total destruction of any kind of respect for Russia. There's nothing to win and a lot to lose. And there are people who say that's exactly what the West wants.

KELLY: I want to follow up on something that you're saying there - that most Russians are absolutely certain that Russia does not want a war. It's fascinating because it is - you're right - totally the polar opposite of what a lot of Americans are hearing and what a lot of Europeans are hearing, which is Vladimir Putin is picking a fight here.

POZNER: Well, here the message is, we don't want war. We don't want war. We don't want war. And on your side, it's quite the contrary. And most people, in my opinion, are victimized by their media. I really feel very strongly about that. I think journalists have acted very, very - how should I put this? - irresponsibly in how they treat this subject.

KELLY: The media coverage there in Russia - and I know I'm asking someone who is a member of the media generating that coverage. But is that in line with what you're telling me? You're saying most Russians aren't talking about this all that much. Is the media covering it all that much?

POZNER: Russians aren't talking about it all that much. They're talking about it. But, yes, the Russian media definitely is talking about it. On television, there's a lot about it. There is a lot about what Putin's saying, a lot of quoting about what the West has said. It's open information. The fact that you're only hearing what one side is saying - here, you're really getting a pretty, I'd say, large picture of what is being said in general.

KELLY: You know, I've been asking you, what do Russians think, asking you to speak for your country, which would be something like you interviewing me and asking me to speak for Americans. There's obviously so many different views on all this. So let me ask what you think, what you are watching for in these coming days that seem to be a very pivotal moment in terms of how the situation with the standoff and the Russia-Ukraine border will play out.

POZNER: This is not about the Russia and Ukraine border. This is about a deep feeling on the part of the Russian leadership that, should Ukraine become a member of NATO, that would present an existential threat to Russia. It's very much like 1962 and the issue of Soviet missiles on Cuban soil, which they had the right to do. They had agreed, the two independent countries. And the United States - quite correctly, in my opinion - saw this as an existential threat and said, we will not allow it. And if we have to sink your ships and bomb Cuba, we will do it. And whether that leads to World War III or not doesn't really matter.

And that, in a way, is how the Russian leadership views the possibility of NATO troops finding themselves on Russia's border with Ukraine. That's the real problem. If that problem can be solved somehow, if somehow the Ukrainians say, OK, we are not going to join NATO; forget about it, and we will guarantee that, there would be no problem. That is the issue - the security as it is seen by the Russian leadership.

KELLY: And since you bring up the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, I suppose worth noting that that did not bring these countries to the brink of war. They managed to find an off-ramp.

POZNER: No, no. They did bring the countries to the brink of war.

KELLY: To the brink of war but not to war.

POZNER: Yeah. But, you know, the United States pulled out the 15 ABM missiles that it had in Turkey without making a lot of noise about it. And the Russians turned their ships around and sailed back to Russia. So the two leaders, Khrushchev and Kennedy, had the wisdom and the strength to do that. And I'm just hoping that Mr. Putin and President Biden, who are really the top players in this game, find the same way to deal with what is an extremely dangerous situation.

KELLY: Vladimir Pozner, host of the TV program "Pozner." It's distributed on Russia's Channel One. We've been speaking to him from Moscow. Thank you.

POZNER: Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY'S "TO WEST TEXAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.