Sun. May 29th, 2022

First names have been used in some cases to protect identities.

Nobody in Russia wants a war, says Ekaterina, a 25-year-old master’s student at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics.

“Everyone is quite worried that there will be a third world war, and everyone hopes the conflict will be resolved peacefully,” she told Al Jazeera by telephone from the Russian capital. tensions over Ukraine no sign of relief shown.

“Recently, more and more people are becoming more and more upset about how Russia and Russians are portrayed in most foreign media, such as villains or some poor, foolish people or drunkards. That is simply not true.”

For Roman, a 53-year-old businessman, the current crisis is far from new.

He comes from a city – known as Gorlovka in Russia and Horlivka in Ukrainian – in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) run by Russia-backed separatists, but now lives in Moscow.

“There is tracking [there] every day, ”he said. “I talk a lot with my former classmates in Donetsk and they say that Ukrainians shoot at Donbas every day,” he added, referring to the conflict-ridden region where the DNR is located.

Ukraine map

While Western powers were concerned about a significant Russian build-up of troops on the border with Ukraine, for fear of Moscow planning an attack, DNR officials recently said there were about 120,000 Ukrainian troops stationed near the line of contact with the Donbas, and more military equipment arrived every day.

“People in Donbas have a negative opinion about Ukraine’s leadership,” Roman said. “If you were fired every day, how would you feel?”

Roman says his brother, a separatist fighter, died in 2017 while covering another fighter from mortar fire.

“He was 42. He died on January 8, my birthday,” he said. “He was in the separatist militia from the beginning.”

Roman is convinced that when it comes to military action in Donbas, Russia is more likely to attack Ukraine.

But he hopes that common sense will prevail and that an overall war can be avoided.

While Russia has repeatedly claimed that it has no military designs over Ukraine, these denials have done little to alleviate Western concerns.

NATO members sent military equipment to support Kiev and Western powers, led by Washington and London, intensified threats of sanctions should Moscow make a move after an attack.

A Russian soldier attends a military exercise at the Golovenki training ground in MoscowIn this photo provided by the Russian Ministry of Defense Press Service, a Russian soldier attends a military exercise at the Golovenki training ground [File: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP]

Russian diplomat Konstantin Gavrilov recently said that the West had claimed over the past few years that Russia had invaded Ukraine “at least 21 or 25 times”.

“We have a joke,” he said, “that when Russian troops entered Ukraine in 2022, they encountered the Russian troops that entered Ukraine in 2014.”

According to Maxim Suchkov, acting director of the Institute of International Studies at Moscow’s MGIMO University, “Russia’s military deployments along the Ukrainian border are not currently about invading Ukraine.”

“There are no clear political goals behind that intervention. And I have not heard anyone explain clearly what the political goals can be, because in the end, wars are fought to achieve certain political goals, not just for hell. “

He believes there are two possible motivations for Russia’s build-up – to deter Kiev from further offensives in the separatist Donbas, and to force the West to finally accept its security proposals.

Last December, Russia sent a list of demands for security guarantees to the US, saying that compliance with them would de-escalate the crisis.

It mainly wants NATO to permanently prevent Ukraine from becoming a member. The Kremlin also calls for an end to NATO exercises near Russia’s borders and for NATO to withdraw from Eastern Europe.

Moscow on Wednesday received responses from the US and NATO, which it said failed to address these key points.

epa09710166 General view of the Moscow Kremlin and Red Square from the State Department Store GUM in Moscow, Russia, January 26, 2022. According to the National Coronavirus Information Center, in the last 24 hours a record number of 74,692 cases of coronavirus infection were detected in Russia.  EPA-EFE / MAXIM SHIPENKOVAccording to the Levada Center, most Russians believe that a war between Russia and the West has been going on for a long time: an invisible, cold, information war [Maxim Shipenkov/EPA-EFE]

Yevgeny Popov, a member of the Russian Duma, said possible NATO enlargement to Ukraine was intended to “put further pressure on Russia”.

“[Our demands] “are essential conditions to guarantee the safety and security of our citizens,” he told Al Jazeera.

“A NATO country armed with ballistic missiles on our borders is a direct threat to our citizens.”

According to Russia, its security demands are not negotiable.

“The threats have now become tangible,” Popov said. “Never before have there been so many reconnaissance flights through NATO, never before have there been so many threats in our direction. “Never before has there been so much tension in Russia’s modern history.”

Others in Russia agree that NATO bases have apparently “surrounded” Russia.

“When Putin said that Russia was being pushed into a corner or against the wall and had no way to withdraw, I do not think it was a metaphor, but rather a real reflection of how the Russian leadership on the moment, “Suchkov said.

“Because if Ukraine is in NATO, then it’s not just ahead of Russia’s threshold, it’s literally on the threshold.”

A recent poll by the Levada Center, an independent Russian pollster, indicates that 50 percent of Russians believe the US and other NATO countries are responsible for exacerbating the situation in eastern Ukraine.

Sixteen percent believe it is Ukraine’s fault while about 4 percent blame Russia.

“We are seeing Ukraine being pumped on an incredible scale full of weapons,” Popov said. “Ukraine, whether he wants it or not, is ready for a full-scale war.

“But in Russia no one is talking about a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Our troops are on our territory. We are doing exercises, but this is simply in response to the aggressive pronouncements, to threats of sanctions and threats to ‘paralyze our economy’, such as [US Secretary of State Antony] Blinken put it. “

For many in Russia and Ukraine, the latest frictions are just another chapter of a long saga.

According to the Levada Center, most Russians believe that a war between Russia and the West has been going on for a long time: an invisible, cold, information war.

Some believe that the US and the West are deliberately trying to drag Russia deeper into conflict.

At the same time, the prevailing view is that Russia will be forced to respond.

Levada Center quotes one respondent as saying: “America and Britain are urging Ukraine to take aggressive action against Donbas, thereby trying to force Russia to stand up for Russian citizens living there, to justify further sanctions. ”

Popov describes the situation as “dangerous”.

“It is obvious that if Ukraine launches an offensive against the Donetsk and Luhansk peoples’ republics, Russia will intervene. We have a duty to protect their lives and safety. ”

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However, he reiterated that there were no plans to attack Ukraine: “We still consider Donbas to be Ukrainian territory.”

Suchkov also warned that an attack on Donbas could derail any attempts at dialogue.

“US and NATO provide weapons and military trainers to Ukraine, military contractors fill the country,” he said. “This could encourage the leadership in Kiev – or other role players in Ukraine who are prepared to derail these talks – to launch a military offensive on Donbas that will provoke a reaction from Russia.”

So this scenario is not completely off the table.

“It can escalate quickly into a major conflict,” he said.

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