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Putin has persuaded most Russians that the Ukraine crisis is NATO's fault


President Biden held a video call with European leaders on Monday to discuss efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine. With some 100,000 Russian troops stationed near Ukraine's border, NATO says it's putting forces on standby and reinforcing countries on its Eastern European flank. In addition to that, the White House has put 8,500 American troops on heightened alert for deployment to the region. For Russia's reaction to all this, we're joined by NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow.

Charles, what's the Kremlin saying so far about these latest moves by NATO?

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Well, we heard from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov this morning, saying Russia was watching these latest NATO deployments with great concern. He also accused the West of provoking hysteria about a Russian invasion and cited the deployment of NATO by NATO as evidence.


DMITRY PESKOV: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So here Peskov is saying that it's NATO's actions that are escalating tensions, and he argues that none of this crisis is of Russia's making but rather due to these movements by the U.S. and the alliance. Meanwhile, Russia's Defense Ministry has also announced its own additional military maneuvers in response.

MARTÍNEZ: The U.S., I know, has been warning of Russian false flag operations, creating some sort of pretext to invade. What's Russia's take on that?

MAYNES: Well, Russia's basically been saying the same about Ukraine. It said the recent Western arms shipments are emboldening Kyiv to seek a military solution to the war in east Ukraine, in the Donbas, where Ukraine is embroiled in this simmering war with Russian-backed separatists. Now, the head of one of the breakaway Ukrainian territories is insisting Kyiv is set to launch a ground assault. It's important to point out, however, that the government in Kyiv is saying the exact opposite. They say that while they've buffered their defenses, they're not going to attack or be provoked into conflict.

MARTÍNEZ: So where have things left off diplomatically?

MAYNES: Well, the Kremlin says it's waiting for the U.S. to deliver a formal response to security proposals Russia issued last month. These call for a ban on NATO membership to Ukraine, as well as a rollback of the alliance from former communist countries in Eastern Europe, among others - among other demands. Now, Moscow says its next move hinge on the U.S. response. The State Department has promised to send counterproposals this week, but it's signaling any compromises would be met - have to be met by Russian reciprocity, so it's unlikely we'll see Washington, you know, just bend to Russian ultimatums. Whatever comes next, though, I think there is some satisfaction in the Kremlin at having forced Russia into the center of the global conversation once again and largely on its own terms.

MARTÍNEZ: What about the Russian people? Any sense of their opinions on the possibility of war?

MAYNES: Yeah, you know, there's a new poll that came out that shows Russians divided on whether war will actually break out but overwhelmingly backing the Kremlin view that this is a crisis borne out of NATO's expansion towards Russia's borders. They also see sanctions as inevitable, really a condition of having already seen wave upon wave of Western sanctions imposed on Russia in recent years. You know, and in one sense, that frees the Kremlin's hand to do as it sees fit. But keep your eye on the economy. You know, the value of the Russian ruble fell sharply this week. The markets are way down. And certainly that has gotten people's attention.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Charles, thanks a lot.

MAYNES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.